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How Common Is Nursing Home Abuse?

Fitapelli Kurta is a New York City based law firm founded by Marc Fitapelli and Jonathan Kurta, which represents elderly residents and their families in cases of nursing home abuse. Marc and Jonathan have appeared in ABC News, New York Magazine, Huffington Post, NY Post, Real Deal Magazine, and Scotsman Guide.

An influential report by the US Congress found that about one-third of nursing homes have been cited for thousands of instances of abuse. Including such actions as physical violence and sexual molestation, many of those cases were deemed severe enough to put their victims “in immediate jeopardy of death or serious injury.”

A similar report by the US General Accountability Office stated found that allegations of nursing home abuse “are not reported promptly,” suggesting that the breadth of abuse might be much greater than the congressional report suggested. “Local law enforcement officials said that they are seldom summoned to nursing homes to investigate allegations of abuse immediately and that few allegations are ever prosecuted,” the GAO report found. “Some agencies use different policies when deciding whether to refer allegations of abuse to law enforcement. As a result, law enforcement agencies were never told of some incidents or were notified only after lengthy delays.”

A 2018 publication by the World Health Organization reported that “around 1 in 6 people 60 years and older experienced some form of abuse in community settings during the past year.” Abuse rates are particularly high in settings like nursing homes and other care facilities, it stated, noting that two-thirds of staff members at such facilities reported that they had committed abuse within the previous year.

According to the WHO, only one in every 24 cases of elder abuse is reported. This low statistic often results from victims’ family members trusting that their loved ones are in good hands with the care facility, which is usually a reasonable enough assumption—elder abuse can occur even at institutions with sterling reputations. The under-reporting is also often due to the inability of elderly persons to understand or communicate their circumstances, whether to nursing home staff or family members outside. Others may be reluctant to come forward for fear of repercussions.

As such, studies into elder abuse are generally limited by the lack of rigorous data, though the WHO notes that even findings relying on staff reporting found an overall prevalence of 64.2% in institutional settings. The most common type of abuse reported by staff was psychological, at 32.5%; then physical, at 9.23%; neglect, at 12%; and sexual; at 0.7%; there was not enough staff-reported data to arrive at a figure for financial abuse.