One of the primary reasons that family members consider placement of a loved one in a nursing home is to assure their safety.
While families must always be vigilant of the potential for abuse at the hands of nursing home staff members, one frequently overlooked area of concern is the potential for a family member to suffer injury at the hands of other nursing home residents.
This was highlighted in a series of articles in the Chicago Sun Times a few years ago showing the large numbers of registered sex offenders who reside in nursing homes. This resulted in the passage of legislation requiring background checks to determine whether a nursing home is admitting a sex offender. A more recent series of articles in the Chicago Tribune also addressed the issues of other criminal acts being perpetrated on nursing home residents by their fellow residents.
Reasons for admission
Virtually all residents of nursing homes have been admitted because they have conditions which render them incapable of living independently in the community, or with the assistance of their families. For some nursing homes residents, the condition that prompted their admission is mental illness, and in many instances, the resident does not have accompanying physical disabilities. Nonetheless, they become part of a patient mix which frequently includes highly debilitated residents. When a mentally ill resident acts aggressively towards a highly debilitated one, serious injury frequently results.
Other times, residents will act aggressively towards one another as a result of confusion, agitation, dementia, or mis-medication.
The staff obligations
The staff of the nursing home has an obligation to protect all the residents and to anticipate and intervene in situations which have potential to escalate into violence. Federal regulations require that the nursing home have on hand staff to meet the care needs of its residents on a 24/7 basis. Residents who have a propensity towards acting out aggressively towards other residents must have a care plan developed to redirect unsafe behaviors directed toward fellow residents.
If the nursing home does not have enough staff to prevent the residents from doing harm to one another, then the only acceptable solution is to increase staffing levels. If the staffing levels do not permit adequate supervision of all residents, including the mentally ill, then the nursing home must stop accepting admissions of those patients.
Investigating resident on resident nursing home assaults
When a resident-on-resident assault occurs, reporting to the Illinois Department of Public Health and local law enforcement agencies is required.
Checking with these agencies can provide some information as to the history of the facility for this kind of violence. These reports are also a rich source of information regarding the incident itself.
Another source of information for frequency of this kind of incident is the number of workers’ compensation claims filed by members of the staff after being assaulted by residents. A history of assaults by residents on staff members or on other residents should put management on notice of a problem and the need for remedial action.
An important issue in the prosecution of these cases is securing the chart of the perpetrator to determine what risks the nursing home staff identified and what care plans they put in place to address those risks. It also will help to demonstrate that the nursing home staff had notice of the propensity of the perpetrator to behave aggressively. However, the nursing home will frequently hide behind the confidentiality rights of the perpetrator and refuse to produce the chart or sometimes even identify the perpetrator by name. Our Chicago nursing home lawyers have developed a strategy for obtaining this information through the pre-trial discovery process which has proved a tremendous tool for obtaining this crucial information.