Standing Up For Seniors: How the Civil Justice System Protects Elderly Americans
As our population ages, so too does the number of older people living in long-term care facilities. When facilities do not have enough staff or resources to care for residents, even the most dedicated caregivers cannot properly monitor or provide proper care for all of the residents under their care, often leading to resident injury or death.
Many nursing homes are owned and operated by large corporations that unfortunately put profits before the people, and this profit-driven mentality has led to a decrease in the quality of care because facilities operate at minimal staffing levels with insufficient resources in order to increase profits.
Individuals who are victims of nursing home neglect or abuse have the right to hold nursing home owners and corporations accountable for their actions. In addition to providing fair and reasonable compensation to victims for the harms caused, these actions send a message to nursing homes that poor care or abuse will not go unnoticed, and motivate facilities to improve care to avoid litigation. It also brings the issue to the forefront in effort to raise public awareness surrounding this growing epidemic.
Illinois nursing home residents are protected by both state and federal laws. Under the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act, enacted in 1979, nursing home residents have the right to remain free from abuse and neglect. The rights included in the Act include, but are not limited to:
- All residents have the right to manage their own financial affairs
- All residents have the right to wear their own clothes and keep their personal belongings in their rooms
- All residents have the right be cared for by their own doctor under their own health insurance or at their expense
- All residents (or their guardians) are afforded the right to access and look over all medical records related to their care
- All residents have the right to religious freedom
- All residents have the right to refuse treatment
- All residents have the right be free from restraints, unless ordered by a physician to protect a resident
- All residents have the right to visitors, mail and phones
Nursing homes are now big business. Corporate chains are anticipating a flood of baby boomers moving into their facilities over the next few years. This increased emphasis on profits has led to a distressing rise in neglected and abused seniors. Between 2000 and 2008, instances of “immediate jeopardy”—violations likely to result in serious harm or even death—rose 22 percent. More than 90 percent of all nursing homes were guilty of at least one violation.
There are many laws and regulations aimed at protecting seniors. Yet government agencies, non-profit watchdogs and media organizations consistently report that serious problems exist in our nation’s nursing homes.
The same is true of insurance companies that mislead and defraud vulnerable seniors. Insurance industry regulators protest that they can do nothing. Even when they do raise their hands, they more often than not strike deals to keep fines to a minimum and settlements secret.
With the regulatory and legislative bodies unable to cope with a groundswell of neglect and abuse, the civil justice system has stepped into the breach. Attorneys who represent our nation’s seniors, and their families, play a critical role in uncovering abuse and neglect, and are the most effective force to compel corporate nursing homes to fix their conduct.
Source: American Association for Justice (click here for the full report)