In a special report released in 2017, a truly shocking trend was exposed - a history of roommates abusing other nursing home residents. The report demonstrates that abuse by fellow nursing home residents has increased by over 50% in just the past few years. While people are generally used to hearing about poor care, low standards, understaffed facilities, and even sexual or physical abuse of seniors, getting justice can be tougher when the person causing the harm is also a vulnerable senior. Sadly, these are just part of the problem. Nursing home owners themselves are frequently negligent just in how they operate their facilities.
Many attorneys in Illinois claim to handle nursing home abuse or 'elder abuse' cases, but it is a far more complex and nuanced focus than most attorneys realize. There are myriads of ways that a lawyer can quickly misstep, leaving a valid case forever lost. If someone you love has been seriously hurt in a nursing home, it's very important to work with an attorney who has a lengthy track record of recovering compensation and successfully taking on large nursing home corporations.
Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect
Under 210 ILCS 45 et seq., Illinois law provides a significant statutory scheme to protect seniors and disabled adults living in long-term care facilities. This law, commonly known as the "Nursing Home Care Act," is designed to protect the independence and rights of nursing home residents. Under the law, the licensee and ownership are jointly liable for injuries that are caused in the nursing home. Most nursing homes in Illinois are large, multi-state corporations. Likewise, the ownership often live far out of state. The licensee is the company that owns the actual facility. However, in most cases, the licensee makes few real decisions about the operation. Before suing a nursing home for injuries, a plaintiff must have a very clear picture of just who is really in charge.
Nursing Home Corporate Structures
The majority of nursing homes are deliberately structured to provide layers of liability protections. While this is legal, it can border on absurd just how far these nursing home companies and their wealthy owners will go to obscure their assets and hide their ownership interests. To understand this a bit better, it may help to look at the types of businesses that are generally operated by owners:
- Licensee - The actual nursing home. Usually owned by a limited liability company.
- Owners - These are the individuals or corporations that own the nursing home.
- Management Companies - Nursing home conglomerates often shift profits to a consulting firm or management company who ultimately controls hiring, firing, operating procedures, funding, salaries, and more. These companies generally have the lion's share of the profits and wealth, but they technically do not 'own' the nursing home, which gives them a legal means for avoiding direct liability when injuries happen.
- Pharmacy Companies - Many nursing home owners will create separate entities to provide the medical devices, pharmacies, and other services to the facility. This merely provides one more option for diverting profits away from the nursing home.
Once you realize the patterns and operational structures of nursing homes, the picture becomes more clear. For instance, nursing homes make money by charging Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, and private pay individuals for their rooms and services. If a nursing home makes a significant profit from these things, then they have a lot to lose if they are found liable for harming residents. So, rather than increasing staffing, improving training, and looking for ways to use those profits to better the quality of care, a lot of those in nursing home leadership opt to create complex systems and shell companies to divert profits. Often, the 'management company' makes millions in profits, while the actual licensee is left with a negative balance or very low profit margin. By doing this, nursing homes can defend lawsuits by claiming that they are broke, even while the owners live decadent lifestyles and rake in profits.
Profits Over People
One reason why nursing homes typically perform so poorly and provide such bad service to their residents is money. The common troupe that nursing homes put 'profits over people' cannot be overstated. In fact, in a report by Witf.org, Charlene Harrington, professor emeritus of nursing and sociology at the University of California, San Francisco explains that these nursing home owners often use Medicaid's low rates as an excuse to claim that they are barely making ends meet, ergo care must suffer. But, as the good professor further clarifies, this simply does not answer the problem. You see, nursing homes are constantly buying and selling facilities. If is frequently quite affordable to simply buy a bad nursing home, slap a new brand and some paint on it, call it something new, and rake in Medicaid funds for a few years. Instead of making changes to underlying problems, such as low staffing or lack of proper ventilation, these companies run the nursing home exactly as the prior failed owner ran it. Here's the rub though, they don't lose money! Rather, they take the profits, divest them into other businesses (see above), and leave the nursing home with negative reviews, poor quality ratings, and countless federal and state investigations pending. When the nursing home is at its worse, they sell it to another corporation, pocket the profits, and leave the residents once again in the hands of a company that will do the same. In short, there is no financial benefit to growing and developing a quality brand. Because Medicaid is the primary payor of long-term care, the money is guaranteed regardless of quality.
Typical Injuries and Abuse that Give a Right to Sue
Under Illinois law, a nursing home resident or their legal representative can sue a nursing home and its ownership and related companies when poor care, negligence, or intentional abuse cause harm to a nursing home resident. Technically, under the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act, injuries are not required in order to sue. But, without a physical injury, it can be challenging to make a lawsuit financially viable.
In most situations, successful nursing home abuse lawyers spend around $10,000 to $50,000 on the litigation costs associated with pursuing compensation for a client. This cost can deter some attorneys from taking on these large corporations. Here are just a few of the common injuries that residents suffer in downstate southern Illinois facilities:
- Bedsores (decubitus pressure ulcers). Under federal regulations, these are considered events that should never occur in a healthcare environment. In fact, under Medicare rules, Medicare may refuse to pay for medical treatment when a healthcare facility causes them. They are generally regarded as 'never events.'
- Falls and Fractures. Older adults with complex healthcare needs are often at a greater risk of suffering a fall. And between osteoporosis, age, weakness, and muscle fatigue, the injuries can be severe or even deadly. For this reason, it is even that much more important that precautions be taken.
- Medication Errors. Medication errors should never occur. Appropriately staffed and quality facilities have simple but effective preventative standards in place to ensure that medication errors are practically impossible. This all begins with investing in standards, training, and quality control. Medication errors are often fatal, greatly reducing a person's life at a stage in life when every day counts so much more.
- Sexual and Physical Abuse. It may seem unthinkable that anyone would take advantage of a vulnerable senior, but it happens a lot. Nursing homes often cut corners on hiring and employee people with sex offenses on their records or people with violent histories, like domestic violence or criminal convictions.
- Infections. Infection control is one of the simplest and most important things a nursing home must do. When staff move quickly from one room to the next without changing gloves, cross-contaminate food and utensils, or fail to properly provide for a resident's hygiene needs, the outcome is often severe. Infections can include: sepsis, C-diff, MRSA, and a wide array of other bacterial infections.
How Much Can You Get Suing a Nursing Home?
Obviously, money is not a good reason to sue a nursing home. In most situations, it is the families and loved ones of a resident who finally take actions to protect the resident and seek justice. However, there are a few things to consider. First, if no one takes action by filing a lawsuit, then the nursing home has little incentive to improve. After all, it becomes economically more profitable to run a bad nursing home than to fix it. That is until a victim sues them and makes their greed and poor care very expensive.
Second, consider that many residents and their estates end up on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt. Think that debt goes away when you die? It doesn't. Instead, it just becomes a debt that loved ones will pay through a depleted estate. So, filing a lawsuit against the bad nursing home can also mean collecting enough funds to cover those unnecessary and overwhelming medical bills. Finally, there is something to be said for knowing that the people who harmed a loved one are being held accountable. Sadly, corporations cannot go to prison. So, the only way to truly seek justice is to hit them in the pocketbook.
Damages that you can seek can include:
- Medical expenses
- Adaptive devices
- Emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship
- Wrongful death damages
It is practically impossible to calculate damages without specifics. In other words, two cases with almost identical injuries can result in massive differences in compensation. Key issues that make a difference can include the amount of insurance, solvency of the defendant, quality of testimony, subsequent medical expenses, age of the injured party, life expectancy and other medical conditions, photographs and other evidence. Further, a state citation for violating regulations can make a big difference.
Knowledge is Power in Litigation
Skilled nursing home lawyers understand the complex regulatory scheme that applies to Illinois nursing homes. In smaller rural communities in southern Illinois, nursing homes often operate practically unchecked by oversight. Rural families tend to get poorer care than those in more affluent cities. While the reasons for this disparity are complex and numerous, the fact is until rural Illinoisans take action to hold nursing homes accountable, the trend will continue.
At Crossroad Legal, LLC, our team of devoted attorneys, paralegals, and nurse advocates are highly skilled in holding nursing home owners accountable. For more than 10 years, founding attorney Jaye R. Lindsay has fought to defend the fundamental rights of seniors and nursing home residents. He has handled cases in over half of all Illinois counties, led lectures and presented continuing education events for other attorneys. In 2015 and 2018, Jaye authored key chapters in statewide attorney educational resources, specifically addressing elder abuse and the use of special forms of neuropsychological evidence in litigation.
To speak with one of our attorneys and seek justice from a bad nursing home, call us 24 hours a day at (618) 515-5555 or visit us online today. The call is free, we never charge for a consultation, and we only get paid out fee if we succeed in obtaining monetary compensation for you and your family. You truly have nothing to lose, but everything to gain by fighting back and holding the nursing home accountable.