Abuse and neglect by home health care workers: a primer

Abuse and neglect can occur in home health care settings.

As our population ages and life spans continue to creep upwards, more of us than ever before will eventually need some help getting through the tasks of our day-to-day lives. Oftentimes, much-needed assistance is provided by family members or friends. These caregivers help maintain the dignity and independence of the elderly or vulnerable person who needs a helping hand. Even if someone needs more help than an untrained loved one can provide, there are options available. These include nursing homes, assisted living facilities and in-home assistance provided by home health care aides.

The problem with hiring an in-home health care worker comes in the fact that, under current Florida law, unless that worker is employed by a Medicare or Medicaid-certified agency, there are no licensing or regulatory requirements that must be followed. This means that woefully undertrained or unqualified workers - who may not necessarily even be subjected to criminal background or reference checks - could be allowed to have unsupervised one-on-one contact with your loved ones in their homes.

It is true that, thankfully, the majority of home health workers are in the field because they love helping others and are not there to take advantage of the vulnerable people they assist. However, it only takes one bad apple to spoil the proverbial barrel, and some people choose to take advantage of the elderly and those with special needs. Elder abuse in these situations takes many forms, and can encompass:

  • Physical abuse such as striking, grabbing, pushing or pulling on patients;
  • Sexual abuse;
  • Verbal abuse like calling the patients names, screaming at them or using vulgar language;
  • Not turning or moving bedbound or wheelchair-dependent patients, which can lead to infection-causing pressure ulcers (also called bedsores or pressure sores);
  • Humiliating the patient by taking degrading photos or mocking them for loss of bodily control;
  • Inadequate supervision, which can allow patients to wander away from their homes and get exposed to the elements, or to fall and injure themselves; not carefully watching an elderly patient in the bathtub, a hot tub or a backyard swimming pool could even lead to death by drowning;
  • Not providing proper nutrition, adequate liquids or much-needed medication;
  • Restraining the patient to his or her bed, or confining him to one area of the house unnecessarily; and,
  • Financial abuse, such as improperly taking tips from the patient, or having the patient write out checks directly to the home health worker from the patient's account under the pretense of buying supplies/medications.

What should you do if you suspect abuse?

If you suspect that an elderly, special needs or otherwise vulnerable loved one is being abused by a home health worker, you need to speak out, particularly if injuries have occurred. This could not only prevent further harm to someone you care about, but it might also keep it from happening to someone else.

In addition to bringing complaints with the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, Department of Children and Families (DCF) Adult Protective Services, and the Aging Network, you should also strongly consider bringing a civil claim if you suspect your loved one has been abused. Working with a law firm experienced in handling the myriad aspects of these complex cases - like the Aventura law office of Ford, Dean & Rotundo, P.A. - means that you can focus on helping your injured loved one recover without worrying about the administrative and legal issues. Call the firm today at 305-670-2000or send an email to schedule a free initial case consultation.