Many problems or annoyances that may arise with hospice care can be resolved with open and honest communication between the patient or a representative and the provider — so attempting to resolve any dispute at that level is always the first step.
But if a problem is severe or persistent, or the provider refuses to act to right a wrong, the next step is to learn whether the behavior is legally prohibited. Review the hospice patients’ rights outlined above, which are guaranteed by law. In addition, there are legal rights based on the contract signed with the hospice provider and from strong protections against elder abuse.
Review Contractual Rights
Begin by examining the contract entered with the hospice provider — including the fine print — and see whether a right or responsibility specified in it has been violated. If so, it will likely strengthen your claim and may also signal the need to take action to right the wrong.
Look for Potential Abuse
People of all ages who are facing the end-of-life are generally vulnerable and often isolated — making them particularly easy targets for abuse. And older people who are being cared for by virtual strangers in their own homes may be especially at risk of being taken advantage of or harmed.
Patients age 65 and older are protected by a California law, the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, which prohibits many forms of mistreatment known broadly as “elder abuse,” including:
Physical abuse. This includes inflicting pain or injury, depriving of food and water, physically restraining, sexually assaulting, and beating. Possible evidence of physical abuse includes cuts, puncture wounds, burns, welts, bruises, poor skin condition or hygiene, uncared-for injuries, missing patches of hair or hemorrhaging below the scalp, dehydration or malnourishment not caused by illness, and prolonged soiled bedding or clothing.
Financial abuse. This includes theft or misuse of money or property. Evidence may include unusual activity in bank accounts; checks signed when the resident cannot write; changes in legal documents such as a will or power of attorney when the resident is unable to make such decisions; unpaid bills; lack of amenities such as a television, proper clothing, or grooming items; missing valuables such as jewelry or art; and deliberate isolation from friends and family.
Psychological or emotional abuse. Actions that cause a person to suffer mentally may also amount to abuse. Examples are verbal assaults, threats, intimidation, humiliation, or isolation. Possible evidence of such abuse is a resident who seems fearful, depressed, helpless, disoriented, or unwilling to talk openly with others.
Neglect. Neglect is a lack of action by those who have care or custody of another person. It includes the failure to give proper care, such as assistance with personal hygiene, clothing, medical attention for physical and mental needs, and a safe environment. Evidence may include dirt, the smell of feces or urine in the facility, rashes, sores, lice, improper clothing, malnutrition, dehydration, and untreated medical conditions. Self-neglect that threatens an individual’s health and well-being — such as hoarding, improper nutrition, and poor hygiene — is also a form of elder abuse.
Abandonment. Abandonment is deserting a resident who needs care.
If you suspect a hospice care provider has committed elder abuse, report it to the local office of California Adult Protective Services; call the Office of the Attorney General, Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse at 800.722.0432; or consult an experienced attorney for help.