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Why is injury by other residents increasing in nursing homes?

When most people hear about nursing home abuse, they think about an elderly person being harmed by a caregiver. However, in some cases the abuser is another resident at the facility. In fact, this has become an increasingly serious issue as people with behavioral and psychological issues are more frequently sharing facilities with those in no position to defend themselves.

What's behind the growing problem of people with mental health issues being placed in nursing home and assisted living facilities where staff members lack the expertise or resources to deal with them? Some are people who are released from mental health facilities as those become more scarce. However, others have brain injuries due to accidents or war trauma.

Some have dementia, which can cause anxiety and confusion that cause aggression. As people live longer, dementia is a growing issue. People with dementia may not be violent at first, but eventually develop more aggressive, violent behavior.

While long-term care facilities are required to screen prospective residents for mental health issues, as one long-term care advocate notes, it's "not a perfect process." In some cases, family members withhold information about loved ones in an effort to get them into assisted living or nursing home facilities, particularly if they can't afford private mental health facilities.

One study last year found that 20 percent of nursing home residents had been involved in some type of aggressive encounter with another resident within the past month. What kind of legal liability do these facilities have when one resident harms another?

Families have filed lawsuits against them for failing to protect residents, particularly if someone had a known history of aggressive behavior and/or mental illness. Getting compensation may be more challenging, however. This is particularly true with assisted living facilities, which, unlike nursing homes, aren't required to have malpractice insurance. Further, assisted living facilities are less restrictive environments. In at least one case, the facility filed for bankruptcy, leaving the plaintiffs without compensation.

With the elderly population growing and the number of people with brain injuries and dementia increasing, they are more likely to find themselves sharing close quarters. Facilities that care for both populations have a responsibility to protect those who cannot protect themselves. If a family member was harmed by a fellow resident, you should seek legal guidance to determine what action can be taken to help protect your loved one and others.

Source: PilotOnline.com, "Senior care facilities mix the frail and the disturbed," Elizabeth Simpson, The Virginian-Pilot, accessed Aug. 28, 2015

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