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How Nursing Homes Hide Abuse & Neglect

  • July 10, 2019
  • KBA Attorneys
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Elder abuse is a growing problem as the population of vulnerable seniors in this country increases. This problem is especially pronounced at nursing homes that house the most vulnerable seniors due to their weakened physical and cognitive condition. Unfortunately, many cases of elder abuse, especially at nursing homes, go unreported. In some cases, this is because the seniors who have been abused do not have the capacity to report the misconduct. Some nursing homes have neglected to live up to their legal obligations to report incidents or otherwise made efforts to conceal the abuse.

Types of Abuse

There are several types of elder abuse that can occur in nursing homes. The mistreatment can be physical, sexual, emotional, or financial. Senior abuse can have dramatic consequences for the victim’s physical and emotional health. Nursing home abuse is broadly defined and is not limited to acts of the staff. Instead, it includes actions by other residents that the nursing home has an obligation to prevent.

Nursing Home’s Obligation to Investigate and Report Abuse

Nursing homes have a legal obligation to report and investigate any claims of abuse. This is not limited to allegations that the nursing home staff deems credible. Instead, the law requires that every allegation must be thoroughly investigated with no exceptions. Further, state laws require that these alleged incidents be reported to the state immediately after the nursing home becomes aware of the allegation.

In practice, the sheer magnitude of abuse allegations makes reporting every alleged abuse by nursing homes an improbability. Some nursing homes will not perform the required investigation if they believe that the resident is fabricating the claim or is otherwise not cognitively able to make a credible claim. There have been examples where residents with low cognitive scores frequently made abuse allegations and nursing homes did not thoroughly investigate the claims. No matter the circumstances, this is against the law.

How Nursing Home Concealment Occurs

Nursing home abuse concealment can occur in several different ways. Much of the care and day-to-day interaction between the staff and the resident occurs at the certified nursing assistant (CNA) level. This staff member may take steps to hide anything that they have done that could possibly get them into trouble. Alternatively, the incident or abuse could have been reported to nursing home management who then took steps to either hide the abuse or otherwise failed to notify the authorities.

Nursing Homes May Falsify Records

Many unreported incidents and allegations involve misconduct by nursing homes. Many nursing homes intentionally do not report allegations to the appropriate authorities, even though the allegations are credible and there is evidence that the abuse occurred. In this type of scenario, the nursing home hopes that the issue will simply go away without resulting in a fine or other disciplinary action from the state or federal government. While it is clearly wrong to do so, nursing homes are motivated to hide incidents of abuse because of the legal complications that await them when the issues become known. Their records may also make them vulnerable in a nursing home abuse lawsuit.

Some incidents may never be known because the nursing home or its staff takes active measures to cover them up. This could involve falsifying patient records to show that the abuse never occurred. Nursing homes are required to keep resident records detailing every aspect of their care. This becomes part of the resident’s file, and the state and federal evaluators review these records as part of their annual inspections.

Nursing homes will sometimes alter a resident’s records to show that they have given the resident proper care when they have not. They may do this to escape detection when they have not followed the laws that dictate how to care for patients. These records also note any allegations of abuse, and the nursing home could remove this from the record or include a falsified description of the allegation. Of course, nursing homes are taking a tremendous legal risk if any incidents of fabrication or suppression are discovered. This could ultimately cost them their operating license or result in a suspension from the Medicare program.

Many nursing home abuse cases hinge on medical records since these are supposedly contemporaneous documentation of the resident’s care. A nursing home abuse lawyer can typically figure out from reviewing the records if they do not match the health condition of the resident, but it takes some effort to do so. However, government inspectors can also spot inconsistencies in a resident’s records and will subject a nursing home to severe penalties if they are caught creating untruthful records.

Has a Loved One Been Abused? Contact an Attorney

Any family who suspects that their loved one has been abused at a nursing home should immediately contact a nursing home abuse lawyer. The lawyers at KBA Attorneys have experience in holding nursing homes accountable for their actions through aggressive use of the legal process.

While an attorney will not simply be able to walk into a nursing home and inspect their resident records, they will be able to obtain these records in the discovery process. This happens after the family files a nursing home abuse lawsuit. Senior abuse is illegal and can lead to financial compensation for the family of a senior who has been subjected to it. Contact our office today to speak to an attorney. 


NPR. “Serious Nursing Home Abuse Often Not Reported To Police, Federal Investigators Find,” NPR, https://www.npr.org/2017/08/28/546460187/serious-nursing-home-abuse-often-not-reported-to-police-federal-investigators-fi. Accessed June 27, 2019.