Article published by : Max Health on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Category : General Health

Virginia Law and Nursing Home Abuse

Making the decision to use a nursing home facility to provide care for a loved one is difficult. Even after taking the time to research and question professionals in an attempt to find the right facility, nursing home abuse or neglect can occur.

Although many facilities offer quality patient care, others are found in violation of many patient care standards and receive repeated citations from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a government agency that regulates nursing homes at a national level.

A recent New York Times investigation found that only five percent of abuse cases were reported to law enforcement. The exact reasons for this low number are unknown, but the difficulty of getting nursing home victims to agree to file reports is a major cause. Some may not make the reports because they are not aware of their rights. As a result, it is important to know that senior citizens within nursing homes have legal rights.

In Virginia, these legal rights are supported by both state and federal regulations. Both are available to protect the rights of victims and hold abusers accountable if a loved one is injured by the negligent or intentional acts of caretakers.

State Law and the Rights of Senior Citizens

It is against state law to abuse or neglect any incapacitated adult, including senior citizens. An incapacitated adult is defined as anyone over the age of 18 who is "impaired by reason of ... advanced age or other causes to the extent the adult lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make, communicate or carry out reasonable decisions concerning his well-being."

The law applies in situations of both intentional abuse and neglect. The term abuse is defined to cover a wide range of actions, but the two specific forms are:
- Knowingly taking an action to injure or cause pain
- Knowingly using physical restraint as punishment or a substitute for treatment

The key to abuse is that the action was taken intentionally. Although these actions are clearly damaging to the victim, they are not the only ones that can result in harm -- neglect can also lead to injury.

A person commits neglect when failing to provide "treatment, care, goods or services" to a person in their care. The crime of neglect occurs when this action results in injury or endangers the incapacitated adult's safety.

The abuse or neglect endured by the resident of a nursing home does not need to result in serious injury to qualify as a violation of the law. A caretaker can be found in violation of abusing or neglecting a nursing home resident and be found guilty of a misdemeanor without producing an actual injury. This violation can result in a monetary penalty of $2,500 and a maximum of one year in jail.

Penalties become harsher with repeat offenses and more severe crimes. They can range from the fine stated above for minor offenses to life imprisonment and fines up to $100,000 for more severe abuse cases.

Federal Laws and the Rights of Senior Citizens

State laws are not the only ones working to ensure senior citizens are treated well within nursing homes. Federal laws are also present to further protect vulnerable senior citizens receiving care within a nursing home.

Under federal law, residents of nursing homes that receive Medicaid funds have the right to have visitors, choose their own physicians, participate in the planning of their care and partake in religious and community activities. A resident has the right not to endure abuse, confinement or unnecessary restraint for the purpose of providing medication.

Each nursing home resident should receive notification of the rights and services they are entitled to during their stay in a nursing home facility. The resident must acknowledge that he or she received such notification prior to admission and must receive periodic reminders of these rights throughout their stay in a language that the resident understands.

Steps to Take When Abuse or Neglect is Suspected

In Virginia, not only does the abuse or neglect of a senior citizen cared for within a nursing home potentially result in a civil lawsuit, it is also a crime.

Before criminal charges are filed, allegations are typically made to the local adult protective services agency. This agency is a division of Virginia's Department of Social Services, and will investigate, and if abuse or neglect is confirmed the agency offers medical assistance, counseling and other services to the victims.

If you or a loved one is injured by a nursing home staff member, it is also wise to contact an experienced Virginia nursing home abuse lawyer to discuss your rights. Nursing homes have a duty to provide for their patients within a safe environment, and if this duty is violated compensation may be available to cover medical and rehabilitative expenses as well as pain and suffering.

Every situation is unique, and discussing yours with an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer is advantageous. This professional will discuss your legal rights and remedies and help you determine the best course of action for your situation.

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By: Max Health

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