Nursing home abuse and neglect is a fact of life that many communities are only beginning to realize and investigate fully. Recently, in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Dorothy Butler, a 100-year-old nursing home resident, was rushed to a hospital emergency room suffering from hemorrhaging, pressure sores, bruising and four broken ribs. Adult Protective Services, part of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, investigated the incident.
In Tennessee, only about one in 23 cases of elder abuse are reported. This is primarily because many of the suspected abusers are family members or others with control over the victim's life and his or her access to the outside world. Victims are often unable or unwilling to summon help.
In nursing homes, the abuse can be as traumatic on family members who have entrusted the facility to care for their parent or spouse. The abuse can include beatings, neglect and sexual assault. Often, medications are improperly administered or not at all. Symptoms of abuse can include malnutrition, soiled clothing, dehydration, withdrawal, bed sores, bruises, extreme agitation, poor hygiene and sanitation, and improper record keeping.
A U.S. Senate House Committee on Aging estimated that 5 percent of all elderly people in the U.S. suffer from some form of abuse, neglect or financial exploitation. The Tennessee Department of Human Services reported that they work with about 2,000 cases per month out of 40,000 people that the department considers to be elderly.
Under Tennessee law, anyone-including family members and health care providers-are required to report any reasonable suspicion of elder abuse or exploitation to the Department of Human Services, which maintains an office in all 95 Tennessee counties.
Adult Protective Services investigates every report of elder abuse and financial exploitation. And with the assistance of Adult Protective Services and other state agencies, the Nashville Police Department has launched an intensive effort to identify elder abuse cases.
Dorothy Butler was fortunate in that her son was able to come to her assistance and that her nursing home has come under investigation. Protective agencies can only do so much without caring and alert health care providers doing their part in reporting suspected abuses-and by maintaining safe and stable environments.