November 20, 2020 | Nursing Home Abuse
The global COVID-19 pandemic has hit everyone hard, but most especially the elderly and at-risk populations. The virus is still raging through much of the United States, including areas of Kentucky, and measures are being taken to protect vulnerable nursing home residents from the disease.
According to AAPR and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services of Kentucky, nursing home facilities in Kentucky are allowing family members visitation, but only if they schedule the visits during specified hours. They also require all individuals to wear masks and practice social distancing. By limiting contact and taking enhancing safety precautions, nursing homes are taking strides to ensure an outbreak doesn’t take place and doesn’t take lives.
Yet, an increasing number of people are following the “better safe than sorry” route and are limiting visits or cutting them out altogether so as not to expose vulnerable family members to the virus. However, some news outlets are reporting that while fewer visits may mean fewer outbreaks, the reduction in visits to nursing homes is also having an unintended consequence – fewer reports of nursing home abuse.
California State Ombudsman Joseph Rodrigues serves as an unofficial nursing home watchdog, and he claims that reports of nursing home abuse to his office alone have declined 44 percent since the start of the pandemic.
Social Isolation Risk for Nursing Home Abuse
New medical studies cite social isolation as a risk factor for elder abuse. This isolation and lack of contact with the outside world means that family members may not be getting the full picture when it comes to how their loved one is being treated in a nursing home setting. This limited contact may be partially responsible for the decline in reported abuse cases.
Family members are typically the ones that notice and report potential nursing home abuse cases. When a family member visits or has contact with a loved one, they pick up on telltale signs of abuse like changes in appearance, behavior, or attitude. They may also spot bruises, unusual marks or bedsores, and patterns like frequent injuries or infections. Limited interaction with nursing home residents could mean that these critical warning signs are now being missed.
The same medical studies also put into context COVID-19’s impact on overworked caregivers. Nursing home caregivers are being stretched thin. In many facilities, there are already not enough caregivers to properly manage residents’ needs, and resources may be limited. In addition to not having enough caregivers, the ones on staff may be overworked, underpaid, stressed, and anxious. Caregivers in this frustrated and emotional state may be more likely to lash out at residents either verbally or physically, or they may become so overwhelmed that they neglect residents altogether.
So, what is the answer? While the pandemic continues, one of the most important things you can do for your elderly family members is to be there for them, even when you can’t physically be present. Stay in touch, use technology, or pick up the phone. Let them know that they are not alone and that they can come to you about anything. You are the first line of defense when it comes to preventing and reporting nursing home abuse.