With millions of people in New Mexico and across the U.S. living in long-term care facilities, the possibility of abuse is a serious one. A CNN investigation found that between 2013 and 2016, the federal government cited more than 1,000 nursing homes either for failing to prevent cases of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse at their facilities or for mishandling those cases. Of those, nearly 100 were cited multiple times.
However, nursing home abuse goes under-reported and under-investigated. Dementia patients, both men and women, tend to be the most frequent targets. Those who rarely get visitors on at least a monthly basis are also vulnerable. Staff shortages at some facilities mean that employees are not always under supervision. Abusers can be caregivers, other residents or even friends or family.
Many patients may be unable to speak up about abuse, or if they do, they may not be taken seriously. Signs of sexual abuse, though, are usually visible: bruises, bleeding and torn or stained underclothes. More subtle symptoms can include panic attacks and a general fear of being alone.
Families that suspect abuse should report it to the administrator, call the police and inform Adult Protective Services, the long-term care ombudsmen and the state's Licensing and Certification Agency. They could, in addition, start a family council to get the facility to meet with them.
If the owner of the nursing home failed to provide adequate protection for its patients, families could file a claim concerning the personal injuries that their loved one incurred. This is where a lawyer may come in, assess the claim, review the evidence gathered by the ombudsman and prepare for court. The other side might wish to settle out of court, in which case the lawyer may negotiate. A successful claim may be able to cover losses like medical expenses, pain and suffering and emotional scarring.