Nursing Home Abuse: When Another Patient Is The Aggressor


Nursing home patients are some of the most vulnerable people in our society and the statistics regarding their abuse are staggering. More than 40% of nursing home residents report being abused, and a new study indicates that a significant amount of abuse is from an unexpected source: other patients. If someone that you love is in a nursing home, this is what you should know about the problem of patient-to-patient abuse. 

How serious is the problem of patient-to-patient abuse?

Ultimately, the study concluded that about 1 out of every 5 nursing home residents experiences some form of abuse from another patient. Patient-to-patient abuse can take many forms:

  • menacing gestures
  • verbal threats and name calling
  • taking food off another patient's tray
  • stealing objects from other patients
  • pushing and shoving
  • attacks with wheelchairs and canes
  • throwing things at other patients

Even sexual assault or murder is possible. An 87-year-old resident of a Florida nursing home was recently charged with sexual battery on his incapacitated 94-year-old roommate. In another case, one resident of a nursing home sat on another resident until the victim stopped breathing and died.

Why aren't nursing homes doing more to stop the abuse?

One of the most disturbing parts of the recent study on patient-to-patient abuse is that it found that, out of 407 incidents, only 3 made it into the nursing home's official reports. This indicates that the nursing homes are either not taking the incidents as seriously as they should or are purposefully leaving them out of reports because they're trying to avoid liability. They may hope that they can deny knowledge of a resident's tendency toward violence if something serious happens.

Another reason that nursing homes don't do more to stop the abuse is that it requires having more staff on hand at all times to handle residents who are prone to violent behavior. Many nursing homes work with just the minimum number of nurses and aides that they are required to have, especially at night and on weekends. This cuts costs for the nursing home, but victimized patients may pay the price.  

Shouldn't the nursing home be held responsible for these incidents?

The nursing home does have a responsibility to protect its residents from other residents who are mentally ill, suffering from violent forms of dementia, or just prone to violence. Every instance of abuse, including verbal threats, should be documented so that the staff knows about the issues. Particularly violent patients should be separated from others, and the particularly vulnerable—patients whose disabilities keep them from communicating—need to be watched closely for signs of abuse. 

You can help protect the person you love in this situation by reporting any instance of patient-on-patient abuse that you witness or hear about, no matter how small. For example, if your aunt's roommate is stealing her blankets or taking food off her dinner tray, report the incident. Don't allow the nursing home to "handle" the issue—insist on seeing the written report. That puts the nursing home on notice so that they can't claim that they were unaware that such things were happening. 

If the nursing home doesn't respond to instances of patient-to-patient abuse and doesn't take appropriate steps to prevent such abuses, they could be held financially liable for any injuries that your loved one experiences, even though another patient is the aggressor. The nursing home may also have to pay for any additional medical care your loved one needs and the costs associated with moving to another facility. Your loved one could also be compensated for his or her pain and suffering and emotional distress. Consider contacting an attorney who handles nursing home abuse cases (such as one from to discuss the possibilities. 


7 July 2016

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