Whether we entrust the care of our loved ones to a skilled nursing facility as they age, or they're admitted to the hospital after an accident or illness, we expect those closest to us to be provided with the highest level of patient care. From doctors all the way to orderlies, we trust that our loved ones are being looked after and treated with the compassion and understanding each and every human being deserves.
The last thing a family expects is to come to the realization that their loved one has become the victim of abuse. When the abuse comes at the hands of a healthcare worker entrusted with the care of a loved one, it's not only unfathomable that this could happen to patients in need of medical care, but it's unacceptable on the part of healthcare professionals employed to perform their duties with a reasonable standard of care.
Patient rights are non-negotiable
When it comes to abuse (sexual, emotional, or physical) there are policies in place to prevent it. A first line defense instated to protect both nursing facilities and patients alike is a requirement that, by law, the facility must have their elder abuse prevention policies in writing and made available to the public. When asked, the facility must be able to furnish these policies to the family and the potential nursing home resident prior to–or any time during–their admission.
This same policy applies to hospitals and medical offices although the provided documentation differs slightly. The Patient Bill of Rights must be provided to every patient or their caregiver immediately upon request, with no delays. Failure to provide a patient with the Patient Bill of Rights is in violation of HIPAA law, and fines could be leveled upon any medical practice that does not comply and are reported for not doing so. There are no exceptions to this rule.
The Patient Bill of Rights under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) there are eight sections dictating patient rights that are explained as follows:
- Information for patients
- Choice of plans and providers: patients have the right to choose their doctors, hospitals, and medical facilities
- Access to emergency services: patients have the right to be treated in an ER setting regardless of insurance policy, stabilized and transferred to a facility that accepts their insurance
- Taking part in treatment decisions: if the patient is of sound mind and is not under the care of a legally appointed caregiver such as a loved one with power of attorney, they reserve the right to refuse or accept treatment based on their personal beliefs and values regardless of the outcome
- Respect and non-discrimination: race, sex, age, sexual orientation, religion
- Confidentiality of your health information: physician-patient confidentiality
- Complaints and appeals: patients reserve the right to file a complaint with HIPAA if they feel they did not receive the standard of care required by law
- Consumer responsibilities
Families must pay close attention to how any facility (medical office, hospital, rehabilitation center) caring for a loved one follows the letter of the law as contained in the Patient Bill of Rights. It's a red flag that must be documented if the patient and their family are not provided with abuse prevention policies or a copy of the Patient Bill of Rights when requested or if excuses are made as to why they cannot be provided.
Placing a loved one in a nursing facility either for rehabilitation or for long-term care when they are no longer able to care for themselves is a decision not made lightly. Families always try everything in their power to keep their loved one at home with them where they can rest assured they are safe, before placing the elderly family member in the care of skilled nursing facility. Many families suffer from feelings of guilt after making the chose to place their loved one in a nursing home, even though they trust that it's in their best interest for a better quality of life and improved health.
The standard of care, compassion, compliance
In The Reality of Nursing Home Abuse: Your Loved One Has Rights we looked at the basic standard of care that must be provided to residents of rehabilitation centers and nursing homes.
- Is this facility clean and compliant with OSHA standards?
- Do the residents look happy and well cared for?
- Have there been any reports filed against this facility for any type of abuse?
- Is every staff member licensed or certified as required by the state in which they practice their profession?
- Are staff members approachable and willing to answering any questions a family has?
- What emergency procedures are in place in the event of something happening to a loved one?
When a loved one becomes the victim of abuse in the healthcare setting, it's important to take legal action quickly.
Florida law has strict standards for the statute of limitation. If these standards are not met or the statute of limitations is exceeded, victims of abuse may lose their right to the compensation and justice they deserve. Florida law specifically state that in the case of abuse in the healthcare setting:
- The injured party must file a case within (2) two years after the initial abuse. There is time considered for attorneys to perform “discovery” as to the onset of the assault or abuse.
- In regard to the first point, the state of Florida has banned all medical malpractice lawsuits that are not filed within (2) two years of the actions that caused the injury.
- There are instances when an exception will be made if the abuse or assault was found to be purposefully concealed to avoid legal consequences.
- There is one other exception to the statute of limitations only on a case-by-case basis that must be approved by a judge. Florida will make the aforementioned exceptions if the abused or injured party is a minor child, or if the patient has been deemed incompetent to stand trial due to traumatic brain injury as a result of assault or abuse.
The very young and the elderly at large are among the most vulnerable demographics when it comes to suffering abuse at the hands of healthcare professionals entrusted with their care; when patients–young or old–can’t speak for themselves, they may become the target of ongoing abuse and inappropriate conduct on the part of those employed to provide for their needs in a hospital or long-term care setting.
It could be a nurse that’s having marital problems at home and brings her anger to work, lashing out at her vulnerable patient, or a caregiver such as a CNA (certified nursing assistant) that’s not properly trained in conditions such as Alzheimer’s or has little patience for a crying child, thus he or she becomes annoyed with the patient and uses physical force to subdue them, this all constitutes a form of assault and victims must seek legal advice as quickly as possible to ensure their rights are not violated any further as a result of a deplorable healthcare worker that saw fit to abuse those they are expected to act compassionately toward and to provide the highest quality of care for.