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Nursing Home Abuse and the Tennessee Adult Protection Act

Elderly adults in the care of a nursing home or assisted living facility are vulnerable to many different forms of abuse. For example, a caregiver may physically abuse a patient, including kicking, punching, or assaulting them. Sexual assault or molestation is another form of physical abuse. Patients can also suffer physical injuries as a result of malnutrition or dehydration. Further, improperly administering medication could increase an elderly patient’s risk of falling and injuring themselves. Emotional and psychological abuse, along with financial exploitation, are also considered forms of elderly abuse in Tennessee.

Without being able to constantly supervise a loved one, it can be difficult to know if a nursing home resident is being treated appropriately. Further, many elderly adults suffer from a form of mental or physical handicap which makes it difficult for a family member or caregiver to know if abuse is taking place.

To protect our elderly population, Tennessee has enacted the Tennessee Adult Protection Act. Under the Act, all nursing home employees, including physicians, social workers, and nurses, are mandated to report any reasonably suspected instances of abuse. Any person who knowingly fails to report abuse will be charged with a misdemeanor. This strict requirement reflects Tennessee’s commitment to protecting the elderly. Often times, self-reporting is the only way abuse is detected and stopped.

Nursing home employees who have been reported for abuse are to be added to a registry and no longer allowed to work at assisted living facilities with the elderly. Recently, however, a nursing home assistant was arrested for assaulting a 13-year-old volunteer at an assisted living facility, yet was allowed to continue working at a nearby facility after the incident was not reported to the state in a timely fashion. Alex Martinez, the 34-year-old nursing assistant, was arrested for sexually assaulting a co-worker’s 13-year-old daughter while she volunteered at Cherry Creek Nursing Center in Aurora, Colorado. Although he was ultimately fired for his conduct, the nursing home failed to report the abuse to the state until months later. This is the second time Cherry Creek has been investigated for failing to report a case of sexual abuse.

Cherry Creek told the victim’s mother that the incident was not reported because the abuse occurred on a volunteer minor, not a nursing home patient. As a result, the nursing assistant was allowed to work for months at a nearby nursing home while he underwent legal proceedings for the assault charge.

State laws vary on when abuse in a nursing home should be reported. Many state statutes, like Tennessee, only mention reports of abuse on the elderly or mentally disabled. It is worth noting that the Colorado Board of Nursing immediately revoked Martinez’s Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certification immediately upon learning of the abuse.

In addition to other remedies provided by law, an elderly adult has a right to recover compensatory damages and costs for abuse provided by Section 120 of the Tennessee Adult Protection Act. Further, punitive damages may also be awarded to an abused patient if the nursing home defendant is found to have willfully or maliciously suppressed the report of abuse.

If you are considering moving your loved one into a nursing home facility, the most important thing you can do is ask questions. Ask about the nursing home’s hiring process. Ask about background checks. Ask about instances of prior abuse or lawsuits. In the unfortunate event that your loved one is abused, there is recourse for you and your family. Make sure the abuse is reported as soon as possible. Then, contact the experienced nursing home attorneys at Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz to discuss your options under the Tennessee Adult Protection Act.