According to the California Attorney General’s office, more than 200,000 Californians over the age of 65 are subjected to elder abuse each year – and the problem is not expected to get better any time soon.
With a population of 3.7 million elderly, California already has the largest number of elderly residents in the nation. This number is expected to double in the next 20 years. As the baby boomer population enters their golden years, the number of people who need assistance from family members and long term care facilities is going to increase and, with it, the incidence of elder abuse.
State and federal law provide important rights and protections to those living in nursing homes and other care facilities, including independent living facilities and skilled nursing facilities, who may be subjected to abuse. The law also imposes civil and criminal penalties on those who physically, emotionally, and financially harm elders. Attorneys fees may be recovered as part of your damages.
However, the law does little good if no one reports the crime. In fact, it is estimated that for every case of reported elder abuse, five more go unreported. This is why it is so important for friends, family, health care professionals, and others to understand what elder abuse is, recognize the warning signs and report suspected cases to the proper authorities.
WHAT IS ELDER ABUSE?
Under California law, elder abuse is defined as the mistreatment of either a person 65 years or older or a dependent adult with mental and/or physical limitations living in a home or institution.
Elder abuse can take many forms, including:
- Physical harm: Physical injury, assault, sexual abuse, rape, unlawful physical restraint, over-medication, food, and water deprivation
- Emotional harm: Threats, yelling, belittling, name-calling, intimidation, verbal assault, confinement, isolation
- Neglect: Failure to assist with personal hygiene, provide nourishment, shelter, medical care; failure to protect from harm
- Financial exploitation: Theft, check forgery, financial manipulation, illegal gifts under wills and trusts, illegal transfers of powers of attorney
WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS OF ELDER ABUSE?
While it may not always be easy for a loved one to tell whether a family member has been the victim of elder abuse, there are some tell-tale signs that may indicate abuse has occurred. These signs include:
- Unexplained bruising, scratches, lacerations, burns, broken bones
- Bedsores that fail to heal
- Poor hygiene, unclean appearance, matted hair
- Dirty, bloody, and/or ripped clothing, bedding
- Restraint marks on arms, legs, wrists, and/or ankles
- Confused, forgetful
- Agitated, angry
- Unexplained weight loss
- Secretive behavior
- Unusual bank activity, change in spending habits
Family members also may have cause for concern if they are unable to meet with their loved one at a nursing home or other facility without a caregiver present. This may be an indication that the caregiver is trying to isolate the elder and does not want to leave the family alone with him or her.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU SUSPECT ABUSE?
If an individual reasonably believes a resident of a senior living facility is being abused, he or she should report the suspected abuse to the local Long-Term Care Ombudsman, the local police department, or the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse. In all other suspected cases of elder abuse, an individual should report their suspicions to the local county Adult Protective Services unit or the local police department.
In California, anyone who provides care to an elder or a dependent adult, regardless of whether that individual is paid for his or her services, is required by law to report suspected elder abuse. Those who fail to report the abuse may have to pay up to a $1000 fine, spend up to six months in jail, or both. The penalties increase if the elder or dependent adult is severally injured or dies as a result of the abuse.
Under California state law and federal law, residents of long-term care facilities have the right to be free from verbal, physical, sexual, and mental abuse as well as corporal punishment, neglect, and isolation.
If a caregiver has harmed you or a loved one physically, emotionally, or financially, you have important legal options available to you, including the right to seek civil damages. For more information on your legal rights, contact an experienced elder law attorney today.