Did you know that, in the United States today, approximately 1 out of every 10 older adults will suffer from some form of elder abuse? Many people don’t, and that’s a problem.
Why is it that this issue, although one of the most devastating and unjust in our society, is so rarely discussed? One of the reasons might be that people are, quite simply, scared: They have never dealt with such an issue, and it might even seem too delicate to address. But, the lack of conversation and awareness is fairly surprising, and is certainly part of the reason why such instances of abuse in our nursing homes and elder-care facilities often go unreported.
But what others forces are at play here? And exactly how many cases of elder abuse go unreported? Well, in considering emergency room visits alone, a recent study found that only 1 out of every 7,700 visits resulted in a formal diagnosis of elder abuse.
To Timothy Platts-Mills, MD, author of the study, this implies that “the vast majority of victims of elder abuse pass through the emergency department without the problem being identified.”
And that is a scary thought.
How Corrupt Business Practices Compromise Health and Safety
It is important to know that other systemic forces contribute to this issue besides a lack of awareness or pattern of ineffective emergency room personnel. Specifically, the influence of for-profit nursing homes has resulted in widespread negligence and corruption, and has promoted a culture of secrecy surrounding this issue, thereby allowing this dangerous cycle of negligence to continue unimpeded.
For years now, for-profit nursing homes have been consistently ranked lower in areas of patient care and safety. The corporations behind these long-term care facilities are deceitful, and often avoid accountability by splitting the ownership of a single facility among dozens of different corporations. Following the trail of negligence is made intentionally difficult for victims. Often, long-term care facility staff members are overworked and underpaid. Countless shortcuts are taken in order to maximize profit. Again and again, corrupt business decisions prioritize financial gain over patient well-being.
Giving a Voice to the Voiceless
It is heartbreaking to consider the fact that elder abuse harms the most vulnerable members of our society. Victims suffer dehydration and malnourishment, physical or emotional harm, poor hygiene, falls that result in broken bones, financial theft, and even negligence that results in death.
Unfortunately, state and federal regulations have mostly fallen short. The deceptive and corrupt practices of corporate-run homes have outsmarted many attempts at regulatory control. Organizations actively fighting against this corruption — many of them non-profit, like Leading Age — offer hope that meaningful reform can eventually occur.
Often, victims of elder abuse have limited or declining cognitive abilities, and therefore cannot speak up. Others have little family left to help in obtaining justice. Therefore, it is important for those able to hold corrupt and negligent health care providers responsible to do so, in the hopes that legal action will prompt positive regulatory change.
Just as malpractice lawsuits have been proven to improve doctor safety and training, legal action against elder abuse can also have a profound effect.
It is important that we bring this issue out of the shadows and to the forefront of our discussions. For, who are we as a nation if we cannot even protect our population’s most vulnerable?