Placing a family member in a nursing home is a heart-wrenching decision. You are acknowledging that your loved one can no longer care for their needs and that you cannot take care of them in your own home because they have health issues you’re not qualified to manage.
When you investigate a nursing home or assisted living facility, you want to be sure that the staff will take as much care of your loved one as you would. Most of them will, but there are always cases of abuse and neglect reported in the news. What can you do if something happens to your family member?
The families and residents of nursing homes have legal rights in New York. If you believe someone in their care facility has harmed your loved one, you should contact a nursing home neglect attorney at Feroleto Law right away.
How We Can Help
Most people think of abuse and neglect as physical or psychological abuse, such as hitting or yelling at a resident. However, “benign neglect” leading to malnutrition and dehydration is far more common in many nursing homes, even when the staff is attentive and caring. One study found that 39 out of 40 residents in a nursing home consumed less than the optimal amount of fluid per day, despite water and other liquids being available.
The residents of nursing homes may be unable or unwilling to report that they are being neglected. They may fear retaliation or be unaware that they are not getting adequate food and water. Family members may not know who to report their suspicions to. They may be hesitant to make a fuss if nothing is wrong.
We know that it can be difficult to prove these types of neglect because other illnesses can cause dehydration and malnutrition. Medications can make food taste bad or reduce appetite. The nursing home attorney in Buffalo at Feroleto Law understands what documentation is needed to establish that the facility is not performing its due diligence. We want to ensure you receive just compensation for your loves one’s injuries, no matter what underlying conditions exist.
How Malnutrition and Dehydration Happen in Nursing Homes
People must go into nursing facilities because they cannot care for their daily needs, such as eating, bathing, dressing, and housekeeping. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are supposed to provide regular nutritious meals and assistance in eating if the resident needs help.
Unfortunately, nursing homes are often understaffed and have too many residents per staff member. The ideal staff-to-resident ratio is three residents per staff member, but the usual ratio is often five times that.
Signs and Causes of Dehydration
Dehydration occurs when a person has insufficient fluid intake. Ideally, a person should drink about eight glasses of water a day to stay fully hydrated. In hot, dry, or very humid climates, people may need more water than that.
Signs of dehydration in the elderly can be challenging to spot because medication side effects may mask them. They can include:
- Chronic thirst
- Dry, cracked, or pale skin
- Infrequent or dark urine
- Lack of sweating
- Low blood pressure
- Irritability and confusion.
Dehydration in older people may be due to the side effects of some medications, which cause frequent urination; too much caffeine; or not drinking enough water. However, other causes that need to be monitored in nursing facilities may include:
- Difficulty swallowing due to stroke or paralysis
- Difficulty raising cups or bottles to the mouth because of hand weakness or tremor
- Bad taste in the mouth due to medication, dentures, or illness
- Inadequate time at meals to eat and drink
Once dehydration has begun, it tends to reinforce itself as the patient becomes increasingly dehydrated. The treatment for dehydration is rapid fluid replenishment, usually with IV fluids.
Signs and Causes of Malnutrition
Malnutrition means “poor nutrition.” It occurs when someone is eating but not getting sufficient nutrients in their food or is not eating adequate calories to sustain themselves. Malnutrition can occur in nursing homes for several reasons:
- Poorly prepared or non-nutritious food, such as starchy foods low in protein.
- Inadequate amounts of food. The FDA recommends a minimum of 2,000 calories per day for adults, so anything below that would be insufficient.
- Sufficient food but inadequate time to eat. Elderly individuals may require additional time to consume their meals, and if they aren’t given this time or given assistance in eating, they may not get their total caloric needs.
- Special dietary needs. As the body ages, it may require extra vitamins, minerals, or other supplements that must be added to food.
When food is prepared in an industrial kitchen, as nursing home kitchens are, it will not be as “home cooked” as we might like. However, it should not lack vitamins and minerals or the calories the resident needs. Both staff and family should be alert for signs that the resident is not getting enough food.
- Weight loss
- Declining energy and increased sleepiness
- Thinning hair
- Slow wound healing and increased infections
- Fatigue and irritability.
As with dehydration, these symptoms can also be caused by medication, illness, and aging processes. Family members and staff should be alert to any changes in the resident’s condition, no matter the cause.
Negligence and Neglect
New York codes provide clear guidelines about what is required for the nutritional needs of residents in nursing facilities. Among them, they require that alternatives be available at all times for all meals, that snacks be available, and that assistance be provided at mealtimes for residents who need it.
Failing to meet the needs of residents is called negligence. Your attorney must prove four elements in New York to show the other party was negligent:
- Duty. The defendant must have had a duty to behave in a particular way. In the case of a nursing facility, they are often held to a higher standard of care because of the nature of the care provided.
- Breach. There was a failure to act in that way.
- Causation. The failure caused the injury and was reasonably foreseeable to have caused such harm.
- Injury. There must have been harm to someone as a result of the breach.
Negligence in a malnutrition or dehydration case can be as simple as failing to give the individual time to eat their meal or to observe that they did not drink their water. The facility has a duty to monitor their residents, which is part of the legal requirements for operating such a facility.
Legally, neglect means failing to provide a dependent individual with the care they need, such as food, shelter, or medical care. Neglect can be any act or failure to act that leads to this condition.
In the case of dehydration and malnutrition, merely because a nursing home provides meals to the residents, it does not mean those meals contain sufficient calories. Merely because they offer bottled water does not mean aides are ensuring the residents drink it.
The signs of dehydration and malnutrition may be subtle and easily masked by illness or medication side effects. Family members and other caregivers must be alert to ongoing conditions so they can ask their loved ones if they are eating and drinking enough. If neglect occurs, it needs to be addressed immediately, or it will continue.
Frequently Asked Questions to Our Nursing Home Neglect Lawyer in Buffalo
When you have questions before your consultation, we have answers. These are some of the most common questions we get.
How long do I have to file a case for nursing home malpractice?
New York has two code sections regarding personal injury claims. CPLR Section 214-A limits your time to two years and six months for medical malpractice claims and CPLR Section 214 provides three years for all other malpractice and personal injury claims. However, there are exceptions which could shorten or lengthen the amount of time to bring a lawsuit against a nursing home. As an example, a notice of claim is typically required within 90 days for claims against facilities run by governmental agencies. A notice of claim must be filed before a lawsuit can be brought against a government run facility and the time to commence a lawsuit is shortened for such a claim.
You should contact legal assistance immediately to determine which of these sections applies to your case. It is possible that both or othes may apply, depending on who in the facility caused the harm.
Who do I contact to report nursing home abuse?
In New York, you can file an anonymous complaint with the New York State Department of Health, Nursing Homes and ICF/IID Surveillance. They have an online form and a 24-hour hotline for reporting abuse and neglect.
Complaints about assisted living facilities and adult group homes must be reported to the intake program at 866-893-6772. A separate agency oversees these.
I think my family member is being abused by staff. Should I call the police?
Yes. If there is definite abuse or you believe there is an imminent threat, you should involve law enforcement immediately. The one thing you do not want to do is “wait and see.” It is tempting to hope for the best, but action is better than waiting.
When you think your family member is at risk in their nursing home or assisted living facility, you need the Buffalo nursing home attorneys at Feroleto Law. We are here to help you through this difficult time and make sure you get the justice and compensation you need for your loved one’s pain.
We will explain your options and the steps you need to take to protect your loved one during this time. We can help you talk with the facility and, if necessary, file the legal paperwork to get them to comply with the law. Contact us at (716) 854-0700 to talk with one of our attorneys about your case.
Attorney John Feroleto
Attorney John Feroleto understands the value of hard work. He is known in the community and by his peers for his willingness to work and go the extra mile. Other lawyers often ask John to handle their trial matters to maximize clients’ recovery. Trial lawyers know who the best trial lawyers are. He was also named Trial Attorney of the Year in 2012 by the Western New York Affiliate of New York State Trial Lawyers Association. [ Attorney Bio ]