Every day, in nearly one-third of American nursing homes, helpless patients suffer from untreated bedsores, are left to lie in their own waste after waiting an hour or more for assistance, or perhaps become dehydrated or malnourished because they are not given adequate water and food.
Those responsible for the abuse and neglect are committing criminal offenses.
A Congressional report released last year found 30 percent of the nursing homes in the U.S., approximately 5,300 facilities, were cited for 9,000 instances of abuse or neglect of patients between 1999 and 2001. Incidents ranged from a male attendant sexually abusing an elderly patient while bathing her to ants found crawling over the body of another female patient.
Abuse or neglect of nursing home residents is a crime under Maryland law. Abuse can be physical, such as punching or hitting, psychological, such as harassment, or sexual. Neglect includes failure to provide adequate food, toileting, medical care or supervision.
Federal law defines abuse as intentional infliction of injury. It is assault and battery that can include physical or sexual abuse, unnecessary restraints, deprivation of food and water or use of medication not prescribed for the patient.
Maryland law defines neglect as intentional failure to provide food, clothing, toileting, essential medical treatment, shelter or supervision for a vulnerable adult.
The Attorney General's Office advises anyone who suspects abuse of a nursing home resident to contact police immediately. The person who learns of alleged abuse must report it to police within three days after learning about it.
Suspected abuse or neglect can also be reported to:
- The State Office on Health Care Quality, 410-402-8201.
- Carroll County Long Term Care Ombudsman Program, 410-386-3800 or email@example.com.
- The nursing or assisted living home administrator.
- The Medicaid fraud control unit of the Attorney General's Office.
Evidence that helps document the abuse, such as photographs of the victim's injuries taken by friends or family members, can be helpful to police investigating allegations of abuse or neglect.
A caregiver or other person responsible for a vulnerable adult is prohibited under state law from intentional abuse, actions that lead to death, serious physical injury or sexual abuse. The same law prohibits neglect, an intentional failure to provide necessary assistance and resources for the elderly or disabled adult's physical needs. Violators can be imprisoned for up to 10 years, fined up to $10,000 or both.
A lesser penalty is imposed on a caregiver or other person who causes abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult, but may not have had criminal intent. A person found guilty faces up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine or both.
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An effort to stiffen penalties was launched in the state legislature after a paid caregiver was charged with beating a 90-year-old Baltimore man, but the effort failed. The caregiver, released on bail, fled the country but was tracked down and extradited from Kenya. She pled guilty in February and was sentenced to six years in prison.