Punched, Kicked, Burned, and Physical Abuse in Nursing Homes: Warnings Signs You Need to Know

St. Louis Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Lawyer Explains Physical Abuse in Missouri Nursing Homes: Warning Signs and Liability

Research and surveys reveal that approximately 10% of all nursing home residents are victims of some form of abuse, although other studies suggest that number is substantially higher.  This includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, and emotional/psychological abuse..  Of these, our St. Louis nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer knows that physical abuse can be the most violent and the most likely to result in the wrongful death of a resident.  This includes violent punches, kicks, burns, pushes down stairs, and other intentional acts.  The typical abusers in nursing homes are nursing home staff, visiting family members or friends, and other residents.

Unfortunately, many abusers get away with their crimes. It is believed that the 10% figure is a low number, as some nursing home residents are unable to communicate the horrors they are enduring.  Many residents do not have advocates like family members, friends, or other residents or caretakers to speak up for them making it less likely that anyone will ever know of the physical or sexual abuse they have suffered.  The residents that do have advocates may be too traumatized,  too scared, or unable to communicate what happened or is happening to them at the hands of their abuser.  This is why it is important to know the signs of physical abuse and what you can do about it.

What is Physical Abuse in a Nursing Home?

Physical abuse in a nursing home can take many forms.  Generally, it means voluntarily and willful contact or conduct that is intended to cause physical or offensive harm to a resident.  Some common examples of physical abuse in a Missouri nursing home include the following:

  • Punching;
  • Kicking;
  • Pinching;
  • Biting;
  • Cutting;
  • Burning (with lighters or cigarettes);
  • Pulling on hair or pulling out hair;
  • Excessive use of restraints;
  • Pushing, including pushing down stairs or into bed;
  • Tripping;
  • Hitting with an object, like a stick, belt, chair, or other object;
  • Grabbing, yanking, pulling, or twisting a resident; 
  • Sexual abuse (we will address this in more detail in a later blog entry); and
  • Any other direct or indirect physical contacts.

Why Does Physical Abuse Occur in a Nursing Home?

Unfortunately, explaining why nursing home employees physically abuse the residents for whom that are supposed to care for is not an easy task.  The easiest explanation is that some people are just mean and feel superior if they have physical dominance over another person. Most normal people can’t fathom believing that it is acceptable to physically abuse a vulnerable nursing home resident. The individuals that engage in this conduct may have greater, underlying issues that need to be addressed.  Nursing homes that hire staff members who have violent tendencies, or who are  caught causing harm in a nursing home and  then allowed to stay on staff, could (and should) be held liable for a “bad egg” in a nursing home that physically abuses residents.

The most common cause of physical abuse in Missouri nursing homes is likely due to low staffing levels.  Nursing home employees have difficult jobs and often have to work with residents who have physical and behavioral problems. It can be a tough and thankless job. The difficulty is compounded when ownership chooses to staff at the bare minimum to increase profit at the expense of residents and, frankly, their employees.  What happens when an overworked, underpaid and overstressed employee snaps?  Physical abuse is right at the top of that list. Lack of staffing is not an excuse for physically abusing an elderly nursing home resident, but it is a common reason why this happens.

Other reasons for physical abuse in a nursing home could be to a staff members personal frustration.  This could be a caretaker having a bad day and he or she takes it out on a resident.  It could be that the resident is not cooperating and a caretaker oversteps his or her bounds by doing something improper, such as grabbing and yanking a resident out of bed or pushing a resident into a bathtub.  This could result in physical injury and constitute abuse. 

Physical abuse in a nursing home also occurs from harm by other residents who may have infirmities such as cognitive impairments, emotional disruptions, or other related issues.  Missouri nursing homes are required to monitor and treat these residents for their conditions, and if a resident is a threat to another resident there needs to be affirmative steps taken to avoid personal injuries.

Signs of Physical Abuse in a Missouri Nursing Home

There are many signs of physical abuse in a nursing home.  Many of these signs are obvious, such as bruises, cuts, or broken bones.  However, there are some other warnings which may indicate that physical abuse is occurring, which include the following:

  • Unexplained injuries;
  • Repeated fractures;
  • Spiral fractures (learn more about spiral fractures in our blog post HERE);
  • “Sock burns,” which indicate a limb like a hand or foot was submerged in hot water that scalded the skin;
  • Chipped teeth, particularly front teeth;
  • Bruising and injuries on the skin but under areas covered by clothing, particularly the back and inner thighs; and
  • Many other injuries.

In addition to physical observations, there are other signs of possible physical abuse which include the following:

  • Unexplained emotional changes in the resident, such as being withdrawn, mood swings, extreme anxiety, and other uncharacteristic behavior;
  • The presence of staff members when family or friends visit, indicating that staff will not leave a resident alone to intimidate him or her to not report the physical abuse;
  • Multiple and uncharacteristic accidents, such as multiple falls out of bed for a resident that is not a fall risk, or falls down stairs that seem excessive;
  • Claims by other residents of similar, unexplained injuries; and
  • Fear by a resident of a particular healthcare provider.

Missouri Nursing Homes May be Liable for Physical Abuse by a Caretaker! Ask the Terry Law Firm

If you suspect that a loved one is being physically harmed at a Missouri nursing home, please call the Terry Law Firm.  A nursing home may be liable for the intentional conduct of its staff members in certain circumstances, which include for negligent hiring of staff, negligent training, failing to handle incidents or claims of abuse, and improperly monitoring staff.  When physical abuse occurs in a nursing home, it is important that a victim or family of a victim contact a St. Louis nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer to protect the resident’s rights.  Call for a FREE consultation be dialing (314) 334-1435 to learn how we can start today.