Can a Non-Family Member Report Abuse of a Nursing Home Resident?
Perhaps you have a friend who is a resident at a long-term care facility. During a recent visit, you notice signs that your friend may be the victim of abuse. Maybe it is a change in demeanor or unexplained injuries. Being a good friend, you bring up your concerns with members of his or her family. They do not seem to take your concerns seriously.
What do you do now? Do you have the right to act on your friend’s behalf, even if you are not a family member?
Duty To Report
Not only do you have the right to report the suspected mistreatment that you believe your friend has endured in the facility, you have a duty to report it. While some people are required by law to report suspected abuse, anyone who believes that it may be taking place has an obligation to speak up. This is especially important when the potential victim is someone vulnerable who may not be able to speak up on his or her own behalf, such as a child or the resident of a nursing home.
However, it may be difficult to know where to go to report the suspected abuse, especially if you do not have a legal relationship to the alleged victim. Out of privacy concerns, nursing home staff or your friend’s doctor may not discuss the patient’s case with you. Fortunately, there is a government program through which anyone can report suspected elder abuse in a long-term care facility. It is called the Ombudsman Program.
Every state has an ombudsman appointed to act as an advocate for nursing home residents, addressing quality-of-life and quality-of-care concerns that can arise in a long-term care setting:
- Neglect, or deprivation of health services
- Abuse, whether mental, physical, or verbal
- Inappropriate use of restraints
- Unreasonable confinement
- Poor quality of care
The ombudsman program is free and confidential. Your name and involvement will not be released unless you give the ombudsman permission to do so.
There are online tools available to help you locate your local ombudsman. Nursing homes are also required by law to post contact information for the ombudsman in prominent places in the facility where it is easily visible. If you witness an immediate threat to your friend, you can always call 911 in an emergency situation.
If someone you care about is a possible victim of abuse in a nursing home, you have the right and the duty to call attention to it even if you are not a relative. Contact a nursing home neglect lawyer, for more information about how you may be able to act on a loved one’s behalf.