According to 2020 statistical data, more than 16,000 South Carolina residents lived in nursing facilities, where they and their loved ones counted on caregivers to take care of them. While many residents receive excellent care, many others are abused or neglected. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that only one in every 24 cases of elder abuse is actually reported. That would mean that for every case reported in the state, dozens of others are not.
When you entrust the care of a loved one to a facility where delivering that care is not only its mission but its duty, you expect the staff to deliver. When they fail to do so, and your loved one is injured or dies as a result, you need to hold them accountable so no other resident or their family goes through such suffering and loss.
You can turn to me — Hunter W. Morris, Attorney at Law — for help. I represent clients and their families in Greenville and throughout Upstate South Carolina as they seek to hold negligent parties accountable for nursing home residents’ injuries or deaths. I fight for residents and their loved ones, even when they no longer have a voice.
The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 passed after research showed that nursing home residents throughout the country were being abused and neglected. The law was passed to ensure that residents receive a level of care that will achieve or maintain the resident’s highest practicable physical, mental, and psychosocial wellbeing. Under the law, nursing homes are required to deliver certain services to each patient and to espouse and adhere to a Resident’s Bill of Rights that guarantees:
The right to freedom from abuse, mistreatment, and neglect
The right to freedom from physical restraints
The right to privacy
The right to accommodation of medical, physical, psychological, and social needs
The right to participate in resident and family groups
The right to be treated with dignity
The right to exercise self-determination
The right to communicate freely
The right to participate in the review of one's care plan, and to be fully informed in advance about any changes in care, treatment, or change of status in the facility
The right to voice grievances without discrimination or reprisal
South Carolina’s Adult Protection Act also establishes protections against abuse, neglect, and exploitation for residents of long-term care facilities. It requires reporting and investigation of claims of abuse, neglect, and exploitation while preserving the resident’s privacy. Violation of the law’s provisions can result in civil actions or even criminal charges.
Abuse may be physical or psychological, and may not be perpetrated by staff, residents, or anyone else, or allowed to occur. Physical abuse includes slapping, hitting, kicking, biting, choking, pinching, burning, actual or attempted sexual battery, and use of medication outside reasonable medical standards for controlling behavior or confining a resident.
Abuse also includes using restrictive or intrusive means to control a resident unless in the form of restraints as ordered by an appropriate medical professional. Every facility must have written instructions regarding the use of restraints, including the need for a physician order within 24 hours if they are applied in an emergency situation. Restrained residents must be monitored and their condition documented every 15 minutes. They must be allowed to move at least every 30 minutes, continue to receive their normal medications, be offered nourishment and fluids, and be allowed to go to the bathroom. Only devices designed as restraints may be used.
South Carolina nursing homes are required to keep a record of every accident and incident that occurs in the facility or on its grounds, investigating and reporting as required by their policies and procedures. Serious events include crimes against residents, suspected or confirmed cases of abuse, neglect, and exploitation, medication errors, hospitalizations as the result of injuries, injuries involving the use of restraints, attempted suicide, and fire. Facilities are required to submit a written report and investigation to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control within five days of any incident.
Neglect is the failure or omission by a caregiver to provide the care, goods, and services necessary to maintain the health and safety of a resident. This includes food, fluids, shelter, clothing, supervision, and medical care.
Nursing staff — including aides, assistants, licensed practical nurses, and registered nurses — provide most of the care to nursing home residents. Federal and state laws require specific education, training, and certification for nurses at all levels. Laws also require minimum staffing levels to ensure the appropriate quality of care. Insufficient staff is often a factor in nursing home accidents.
Inadequate supervision that leads to a fall or abuse by another resident
Failure to provide the proper medications ordered by the physician
Failure to provide medical assistance to a resident when ill or injured, such as failing to notify emergency personnel when needed
Failure to keep the facility safe and free from hazards
Evidence of abuse and neglect is sometimes obvious. At other times, it’s difficult to discern. There are many signs of nursing home incidents such as falls, bruises, and broken bones. There could be signs of sexual abuse. Malnutrition, dehydration, unclean conditions, wandering, and over-medication are other signs to look out for.
As a protective measure, residents have the right to install electronic devices in their rooms, including “granny cams,” if they have written consent of roommates and have advised the nursing home. The facility is not allowed to access the device or recordings without your written consent.
By law, anyone who contributed to the abuse or neglect is liable and can be named in a civil suit. That includes physicians, nurses, ancillary staff, management, owners, and external agents hired by nursing homes to perform certain work. Each of them is responsible for ensuring that residents are well cared for via proper training and certification of staff, complying with staffing requirements, delivering a mandated standard of care, and upholding all rights of the resident under federal and state laws.
Nursing home abuse and neglect claims are complex and difficult to prove. Facilities often attempt to hide evidence or refute the cause of a resident’s injuries. You need an attorney who is knowledgeable in federal and state nursing home laws and experienced with proving challenging claims.
Nursing home insurers are motivated to deny claims, and if claims are substantiated, to severely lower damages based on the victim’s age, health issues, and quality of life as a nursing home resident. You need an attorney who will fight insurance companies and their attorneys by not backing down. There can be no settlement or jury award high enough to compensate your loved one for their abuse or for their death.
If you believe you or a loved one has been abused or neglected in a nursing home, contact me — Hunter W. Morris, Attorney at Law — to schedule a consultation. Join the others from Greenville, Anderson, Pickens, Laurens, Spartanburg, and throughout Upstate South Carolina who have asked me to work with them on their personal injury or wrongful death claims.