Are Elder Abuse Cases Mishandled in Pennsylvania?
Senior citizens are one of our most vulnerable populations, so it is not surprising that abuse of the elderly is increasing in Pennsylvania. Elder abuse occurs when someone harms, neglects or exploits an older or care-dependent person. According to the Department of Aging, caseworkers handled nearly 32,000 calls about potential elder abuse in the 2017-18 fiscal year, up from 18,500 five years earlier.
And now, the Office of State Inspector General, an internal Pennsylvania state government watchdog agency, is criticizing how county-level agencies investigate thousands of complaints they receive about elder abuse.
The report highlights failures by some county-level agencies to properly investigate complaints under timelines required by state law and inadequate staffing of the state office that monitors those agencies. It also says investigative practices aren’t standardized across counties and criticizes training requirements for caseworkers as far too weak.
While Governor Tom Wolf’s administration claims it has begun to address the report’s findings, the chances of an elderly person’s being abused or taken advantage of are still real. Abuse complaints often involve physical abuse, neglect or financial exploitation.
If you or an elderly loved one has suffered harm due to elder abuse, you may be entitled to seek compensation by taking legal action against an individual or a facility that has been negligent or done deliberate damage. However, laws regarding elder abuse are complicated, and your case must be handled properly to ensure you get the settlement you deserve.
The skilled and experienced Pennsylvania elder abuse attorney Clifford A. Rieders of Rieders, Travis, Dohrmann, Mowrey, Humphrey & Waters has spent decades honing his skills and successfully representing Pennsylvania families who have suffered an injury or loss due to abuse, negligence and medical malpractice. Our attorneys offer personal attention and loyalty to every client, aggressively fighting for their right to compensation.
We offer a free consultation to examine the facts of your case and determine how we can help, so contact us online or call our offices to set up your free consultation.
What Are Elder Abuse Laws in Pennsylvania?
Elder abuse and neglect is illegal in Pennsylvania. The Protection from Abuse Act (23 Pa.C.S.§6101, et seq.) defines abuse as: The occurrence of one or more of the following between household members, intimate partners or persons who share biological parenthood: attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury, serious bodily injury, rape, spousal sexual assault or involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with or without a deadly weapon; placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury; infliction of false imprisonment; knowingly engaging in a course of conduct … which places the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.
In 1997, the Pennsylvania Legislature mandated reporting of abuse on the elderly and care-dependent adults. The Pennsylvania Older Adults Protective Services Act (OAPSA) applies to all administrators and employees of long-term care facilities, older adult daily living centers and personal care homes, as well as personal care and home healthcare workers who provide services in care-dependent persons’ homes. The Act also requires state police background checks for most long-term care workers.
Abusive conduct prohibited by law includes:
- Illegal use of chemical and physical restraints
- Unreasonable confinement
- Physical or sexual harm, assault, harassment or abuse
- Depriving a patient of adequate care, food, water or medication
- Undue influence or coercion, intimidation
- Taking property or material and financial exploitation.
What Are Warning Signs?
The most frequently reported forms of elder abuse are self- or caregiver neglect, financial exploitation and emotional abuse.
Warning signs of abuse include:
- Physical signs such as bruises or other injuries, bedsores, sunken eyes, or weight loss.
- The senior suddenly becomes more withdrawn and evasive.
- A caregiver starts living beyond their means or accompanying the senior to the bank.
- The senior’s resources are becoming depleted.
- The senior runs out of prescription medications prematurely.
What to do if you Suspect Abuse
Before reporting suspected abuse, you should gather information to determine the degree of danger and risk the older person faces. If the senior is in imminent danger, you should call 911 or the Pennsylvania Statewide Elder Abuse Hotline at 1-800-490-8505.
Pennsylvania law provides for an emergency order from the Court of Common Pleas when there is clear evidence that an older adult is at imminent risk of death or serious physical harm. The local Area Agency on Aging can file for emergency intervention, and families or loved ones can also seek court intervention to take custody of the senior and provide necessary services for 72 hours, after which a full hearing must be scheduled.
If the dependent person is in a nursing facility, filing a complaint with the Department of Health can trigger an investigation by State Nursing Home Surveyors. If the complaint is serious and has resulted in injury, you may have a civil case against the nursing facility.
Proving damages in these cases can be very difficult. Many of the people who are abused no longer have earnings, although they may still be receiving benefits from the government or private entities. Sometimes, punitive damages may be appropriate where the conduct against the elder person is outrageous. Insurance coverage may be lacking by those who have committed the abuse, and they may not have any assets to respond in damages. All of this has to be considered.
Contact Us For Help
If you or your loved one has a serious abuse complaint that has resulted in injury, you should seek legal assistance to see whether you have grounds to file a civil case and seek financial compensation.
Whether in settlement negotiations or pursuing a favorable trial verdict, the experienced Pennsylvania elder abuse attorneys of Rieders, Travis, Dohrmann, Mowrey, Humphrey & Waters are thoroughly prepared and committed to achieving a just outcome. With our experienced staff, we offer strength in numbers while providing top-notch personal service.
Cliff Rieders is a Past President of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. Rieders has won numerous awards and recognition from the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, and he received the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority recognition award. Cliff Rieders was a founder of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority and served on same for 15 years. Rieders was a Law Clerk in the federal court system for one of the most well-known and longest serving federal judges in the country, the Honorable Malcolm Muir. Cliff has received the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, as well as the Milton D. Rosenberg Award from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. Rieders is on committees and organizations that write the law in many fields of practice. Cliff Rieders was involved in the writing of the Mcare Act, which governs medical liability actions in Pennsylvania. Cliff Rieders wrote the book on medical malpractice that lawyers use in the state. Cliff teaches the subject of medical malpractice at seminars attended by the leading lawyers in the state. Cliff Rieders is recognized as an outstanding authority in the medical malpractice field. Cliff has even testified before the legislature on medical malpractice laws. Rieders is a Nationally Board certified specialist for Civil Trial and Civil Practice and Procedure, a cum laude graduate of New York University as well as Georgetown University Law Center. Rieders is admitted in Pennsylvania, New York State, District of Columbia and numerous federal courts including the Supreme Court of the United States. Rieders is a life member of the American Law Institute which publishes recommended legal principles utilized throughout the United States. Cliff Rieders is the lawyer that other lawyers call for counsel and advice in the medical and hospital malpractice and pharmaceutical/vitamin supplement fields. Cliff Rieders does substantial work in multi-district litigation in connection with pharmaceutical products and medical devices.
Based in Williamsport, we serve clients throughout the state of Pennsylvania, offering a free consultation on all personal injury matters. More than that, we offer you experience, knowledge, compassion, and a long history of results.
Do not let an abusive situation get worse. Contact us online or call our offices today to set up your free consultation.
Do Administrative and Nursing Home Complaints Help?
No one wants to place a loved one in a nursing home or other long-term care facility, but we do so in the hope that the individual will be cared for compassionately and competently. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. It sometimes happens that our loved ones are not cared for properly and, even worse, may be mistreated or abused.
If the problem is severe and cannot be resolved by voicing concerns to a supervisor or administrator at the facility, you may need the help of an experienced attorney such as Cliff Rieders at Rieders, Travis, Dohrmann, Mowrey, Humphrey & Waters. Many people make complaints to local advocacy networks such as the Pennsylvania Nursing Home Ombudsmen, the Department of Health, or even local police authorities. Typically, administrative complaints that complain directly to the nursing home are unavailing. It is useful, however, to let the Department of Health know what is going on. A person must be very careful in what they report, since that can be used against them if a later claim for damages is brought in a court of law. Typically, it is wise to consult with a knowledgeable attorney.
If you contact the Department of Health and file a complaint, it can trigger an investigation by State Nursing Home Surveyors or inspectors who can access the patient’s medical records and discuss the care with staff at the facility.
Upon review of the material, the Department of Health may issue a report that will rule on whether the complaint is substantiated. If a violation is found, the State may issue fines or take further actions—including removing patients from the facility if there is a safety threat. Again, bear in mind that government agencies are typically overworked, underfunded, and sometimes they have relationships with the very nursing homes and hospitals they are investigating. That is why you should always contact a civil attorney as well.
In the case of serious harm as a result of negligence, you may have a civil case against the nursing facility or others, including physicians, nurses, and health care providers.
The experienced and compassionate Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys at Rieders, Travis, Dohrmann, Mowrey, Humphrey & Waters can help. We have spent decades honing our skills and successfully representing Pennsylvania families who have suffered an injury or loss due to someone else’s negligence. Our deep sense of loyalty to each client drives us to pursue each claim vigorously. We offer a free consultation to examine the facts in your case and see what options are available.
What is The Pennsylvania Ombudsman Program?
The ombudsman program began in 1972 and now exists in all states under the authorization of the Older Americans Act, which requires every state to have a long-term care ombudsman program. Each state has an Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman. In addition, local ombudsman staff and volunteers work in the communities, assisting residents and their families. The statewide programs are federally funded under Titles III and VII of the Act and other federal, state and local sources. Ombudsmen work to bring about changes at the local, state and national levels that will improve residents’ care and quality of life.
The ombudsman program is designed to resolve individual complaints involving long-term care services, whether in a nursing home, board and care home, assisted living facility, or other adult care facility.
Ombudsmen are supposed to be advocates for patients. They may help families find facilities that meet resident needs, address problems, and inform patients of their legal rights. They may be able to help in the investigation of an incident and try to resolve problems with the facility. Again, keep in mind that ombudsmen work closely with health care facilities and may have a bias against patients or their families. That is why it is necessary to consult counsel as well. Ombudsmen are supposed to keep information confidential, and hopefully they will; unfortunately, that is not always the case.
In Pennsylvania, ombudsmen are federally mandated, legally based and state-certified via standardized training. They are supposed to advocate and give voice to patients in both community and facility-based settings. Pennsylvania ombudsmen may be paid staff or volunteers.
When Would I Use an Ombudsman?
Often, people go to ombudsmen when they have problems at a facility, such as a resident injury resulting from abuse or neglect. Ombudsmen can conduct investigations of incidents and try to resolve problems with the facility. Their investigation may substantiate poor care, and this may help you decide whether to consider a nursing home negligence lawsuit.
We suggest that people always speak with an attorney first so that the information is properly framed for the ombudsman and does not cause more harm than help. Once again, keep in mind the ombudsman is not necessarily working for you, your family or your loved one alone. They have relationships with nursing homes and they often come from that type of background or employment.
Program data for 2013 show the five most frequent nursing facility complaints in 2013 were:
- Improper eviction or inadequate discharge/planning
- Unanswered requests for assistance
- Lack of respect for residents, poor staff attitudes
- Quality of life, resident/roommate conflict
- Administration and organization of medications.
Reporting Nursing Home Abuse
Nursing home abuse involving Pennsylvania nursing homes should be reported immediately. You can contact an ombudsman in Pennsylvania at the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman:
Pennsylvania Department of Aging
555 Walnut Street, 5th floor
Harrisburg, PA 17101-1919
See http://www.dibbern.com/ombudsman/pa-long-term-care-ombudsman.htm for ombudsmen in each PA county.
If you contact the Department of Health and file a complaint, it can trigger an investigation by State Nursing Home Surveyors or inspectors who can access the patient’s medical records and discuss the care with staff at the facility. The State Department of Health will issue a report ruling on whether the complaint is substantiated. If a care-related violation is found, the State may issue fines or remove patients from the facility if there is a safety threat.
We want to reinforce that you should speak with an attorney first so that the investigation which is done is fair, impartial, and beneficial to the injured patient.
Legal Action for Abusive Care
If you or a loved one has suffered injury or death as a result of abuse or neglect at a long-term care facility, you may be entitled to financial compensation. The seasoned Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys of Rieders, Travis, Dohrmann, Mowrey, Humphrey & Waters know what you are going through. We offer personal attention and loyalty to every client, aggressively fighting for their right to compensation. We know the courts and the system, and whether in settlement negotiations or pursuing a favorable trial verdict, we are thoroughly prepared and committed to achieving a just outcome.
We offer a free consultation to discuss your options and decide on the course of action that is best for you. Don’t delay. Contact Cliff Rieders at Rieders, Travis, Dohrmann, Mowrey, Humphrey & Waters by calling (570) 323-8711 or by using our online contact form. Based in Williamsport, we serve clients throughout the state of Pennsylvania. With our sizeable staff, we offer strength in numbers while providing top-notch personal service.
More than that, we offer you experience, knowledge, compassion, and a long history of results.