The Danger Lies Within -- Attacks On Nursing Home Residents By Other Residents

Aggressive nursing home residents may create a risk for others at the facility. Injuries to nursing home residents by other residents is increasingly being recognized as a significant problem. According to a five-year study by Weill Cornell Medical College and Cornell University revealed in 2014, nearly 20% of nursing home residents followed in the study had at least one negative and aggressive encounter with fellow residents. Those encounters involved verbal abuse, invasion of privacy, and, worst of all, physical abuse and inappropriate sexual behavior.

The Cornell study was, amazingly, the first of its kind. Although elder abuse and nursing home issues have received greater attention over the past few decades, abuse by family members or nursing home staff have generally been the focus of concern. Attacks by other nursing home residents have only recently risen in concern. According to the Cornell study’s co-author, “[t]he findings suggest that these altercations are widespread and common in everyday nursing home life. Despite the acute urgency of the problem, resident-to-resident mistreatment is under-reported. Increased awareness and the adoption of effective interventions are greatly needed.”

In addition to the other precautions noted on our nursing home law webpage and in previous blog posts, nursing homes have an obligation to protect their patients from attacks by other residents. That is part of a nursing home facility’s general responsibility to protect its patients from harm. Nursing homes must have proper staffing and procedures in place to ensure that their residents don’t become dangers to one another. Failure to do so can expose the facility to liability for a patient’s personal injuries or wrongful death.

Nursing home residents have numerous rights and protections under state and federal law. The nursing facility should give them a copy of those rights upon admission. Those rights include the right to be free from physical, mental, and emotional abuse. That includes mistreatment by other residents. If another resident is known to be aggressive and act violently manners, the nursing facility has a duty to separate that person from other residents for everyone’s safety and protection.

Sadly, dangerous nursing home residents are rarely to blame for their actions. Aggressiveness and irritability are common symptoms of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other types of cognitive disorders. Many elderly residents do not comprehend what they’re doing or that they are a threat to others. That’s why the nursing home facility is to blame, both for not taking precautions regarding residents who aren’t able to control themselves and for not protecting those residents who are unable to protect themselves.

Nursing homes need to adopt appropriate procedures for evaluating and monitoring residents for signs that a resident is becoming violent or aggressive. Those evaluations need to begin before the resident is even admitted to the facility. For residents that may pose a threat, nursing homes should develop a patient-specific plan for avoiding and, if necessary, addressing episodes of aggression before they reach the point of endangering the resident or others. Nursing home facilities also must have sufficient staffing to ensure that the plans for potential violent residents can be fully executed. Otherwise, the patient’s plan serves little purpose.

Harley Erbe