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Fear of retaliation leaves nursing home abuse underreported

On Behalf of | Aug 23, 2023 | Nursing Home Abuse

A disturbing new report by the Long Term Care Community Coalition addresses one aspect of nursing home abuse that often isn’t specifically discussed – retaliation (or at least the fear of retaliation). Many residents don’t report negligence or abuse because employees can make things even worse for them.

The title of the report, “They Make You Pay,” is a quote from one patient in a Florida nursing home who said that staff will retaliate against those who complain or report problems by “delaying resident care or sabotaging meals.”

Fear of retaliation causes emotional harm

Retaliation like this can potentially cause physical harm to already vulnerable people. Even the fear of retaliation “inflicts significant emotional harm on nursing home residents,” according to the report’s lead author.

The problem is by no means limited to any one facility or state. The report discusses one study in which long-term care (LTC) residents were asked specifically if they worried about suffering retaliation if they reported “a complaint or concern.” Just under a quarter (23%) said they did. In another study, 44% of residents surveyed said they wouldn’t report abuse of another resident if they witnessed it. Of those, half cited fear of retaliation as the reason.

The role of understaffing and high employee turnover

While understaffing is certainly no excuse for abuse or intentional neglect of residents by staff members, it’s definitely a problem that has to be considered by those seeking to improve conditions for residents. That problem is only going to worsen as our population ages.

Understaffing leads to overworked staffers, which in turn leads to high turnover (especially among nurses, who can find better-paying, less demanding jobs elsewhere). As the report notes, “Higher turnover is associated with worse quality of care.” The southern part of the country — including Texas — has the lowest staffing levels in the country.

This fear of retaliation may explain why nursing home residents too often don’t tell family that they’re suffering neglect and abuse. That’s why it’s crucial that those with loved ones in these facilities make sure they have plenty of opportunities to talk with them away from staff members and even outside the facility if possible. If a loved one has been harmed by neglect and/or abuse, it’s crucial to get them into a safe location and to determine what your legal options are for justice and compensation.