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What is the Difference Between Neglect and Abuse in a Nursing Home Setting?

When it comes to residents of Maryland nursing homes and other elder care facilities, the result of neglect versus that of abuse can be subtle, though the causes are quite stark. In terms of nursing home neglect, injury to an elderly resident is often the result of inaction or indifference, either on the part of an individual staff member or the organization as a whole. Abuse, on the other hand, usually implies that a person (such as a nurse, doctor or other individual) took direct and deliberate action that was intended to cause harm to the victim.

Here in Maryland, the appropriate legal standard for determining eldercare neglect is what is referred to in legal circles as the “reasonable caregiver standard.” Using this standard criterion, the law asks whether the individual in question acted in a similar way that any reasonable caregiver would act under the same circumstances.

With constant advances in medical technology, many people are living longer and enjoying much more productive and active lives than their parents or grandparents experienced in their day. However, as our society ages, many senior citizens wind up living in assisted living facilities and nursing homes often because their families can no longer provide adequate care for them.

Yet, when children of an elderly adult make that many times difficult decision, they end up placing much, if not all, of the responsibility for their aging parent’s care in the hands of strangers with no guarantee that their mother or father will be treated well. Sadly, many residents of Maryland nursing homes will suffer from neglect, if not outright abuse, at some point in their stay at an eldercare facility.

At Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, our personal injury specialists are trained to help victims recover damages following the often-traumatic experience of nursing home neglect and elder abuse, as well as medical malpractice, all of which can negatively impact the well-being of grandparents and aging parents. The most frequent legal claims against nursing homes involve these three areas. Our personal injury experts are ready, willing and able to assist victims and their families following such painful events.

Eldercare or nursing home abuse is defined by the federal government (42 CFR § 488.301) as “the willful infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, or punishment with resulting physical harm, pain or mental anguish.” Instances of abuse in Maryland nursing homes and other elder care facilities can involve anything from mental or emotional mistreatment to sexual abuse and deliberate physical injury.

From a legal standpoint, cases of nursing home neglect differ from those of abuse in that the victim’s injuries stem from inaction or indifference on the part of elder care staff members. Similarly, neglect can exist on an institutional level when management or administrators for a Maryland nursing facility ignore, tolerate or condone mistreatment of nursing home residents.

One very common form of nursing home neglect is the failure of staff to periodically turn bedridden patients who are unable to roll over on their own. A frequent result of such neglect is the development of bedsores (known medically as decubitus ulcers, but also referred to as pressure sores). Bedsores are lesions caused by continuous and unrelieved pressure on a patient’s skin laying over a bony prominence, such as a victim’s hip or tailbone.

Without regular turning, the pressure exerted by the patient’s own body weight can partially or completely impede blood flow to those affected soft tissues, resulting ultimately in the death of that tissue. The most severe condition is known as a Stage IV Bedsore, where the ulceration and necrotic (e.i. dead) tissue extends beyond just the victim’s skin, but also deeply into underlying muscle and tendons, or even bone.

Here in Maryland, nursing homes and eldercare facilities are governed by the Code of Maryland Regulations, a stringent array of regulations by which every licensed Maryland-based nursing home must abide; monitoring of these elder care operations is carried out by our state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Under Maryland legal statutes, every nursing home is required to establish and maintain a list of policies and procedures designed specifically to prevent abuse and neglect of elderly nursing home residents. Failing to have such policies in place can, in fact, serve as grounds for legal action against a Maryland nursing home.

If you believe that an elderly family member is, or has been, the victim of nursing home neglect or abuse, the personal injury team at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, has the legal background and litigation experience to help your loved one recover damages. Furthermore, if you are worried about an elderly relative who is living at a Maryland eldercare facility or Washington, D.C., nursing home, please feel free to contact us for a free, no obligation initial consultation.

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