Preventing Elder Abuse: Early Steps and Warning Signs
How to help prevent it at elder care facilities, and what to do if you suspect it in New YorkBy Alison Macor | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on September 28, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorneys Eric J. Einhart and Elizabeth Forspan
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- Elder Abuse is a Significant Problem
- Averting Elder Abuse Starts with a Strong Estate Plan
- The Importance of Appointing a Power of Attorney
- Thoroughly Research Any Caregiver, Nursing Home, or Assisted Living Facility
- If You Suspect Mistreatment, Move The Person From the Facility
- Document Everything and Keep Evidence
- Find an Attorney with Experience Litigating Cases of Elder Abuse
When Eric Einhart was a student at New York Law School, his grandmother called to check on him. “Are you OK?” she asked. He told her he was fine. She said she’d just received an attempted scam call from someone saying that Einhart had been arrested in Canada and needed bail money.
“She had the wherewithal to recognize what was going on, hang up on the person, and contact me to confirm I was OK,” Einhart says, “just in case there was the slightest possibility of it being true.”
Elder Abuse is a Significant Problem
Financial exploitation targeting bank accounts or credit cards, like the scam against Einhart’s grandmother, is just one form of elder abuse that older adults face.
Einhart, who practices estate planning and elder law as a partner at the Russo Law Group in Garden City, says it’s an issue that is not going away: “Elder abuse is a huge problem, completely devastating, costs billions of dollars for society, and devastates families.”
Averting Elder Abuse Starts with a Strong Estate Plan
Elizabeth Forspan, a partner at Forspan Klear, says averting abuse starts with a good estate plan. “From a financial perspective, the advance planning piece is very important,” she says. “It all goes together to prevent the abuse and the neglect.”
For example, when a family member is entering a long-term care facility, those with enough funds may be able to hire a private aide who can help safeguard a loved one from abuse.
The Importance of Appointing a Power of Attorney
Part of advance planning includes assembling key documents like advance directives. A power of attorney, says Forspan, allows an individual to appoint someone to help with financial decisions in the event that they become incapacitated.
“I recommend that all competent adults should have a durable power of attorney, health care proxy, HIPAA authorization, and a living will, depending on their wishes for end-of-life care,” says Einhart. “Those documents will allow a person’s wishes to be honored and carried out by a person that they know and trust,” he says.
Thoroughly Research Any Caregiver, Nursing Home, or Assisted Living Facility
Before a loved one is moved to a facility or medical care provider of any kind, Einhart says to conduct thorough research.
“Ask questions about the facility, take a tour of the entire facility—not just the forward-facing areas and the lobby,” he says, “and talk to the other residents’ family members who might be visiting.”
Of course, no matter how well a family might plan for the future or try to detect warning signs, neglect or abuse of a loved one could still occur.
For example, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Forspan, the protocols for treating individuals within facilities have changed. If a patient has a cold or COVID-19, they may be put in isolation for a time, which might result in fewer visits from the nursing staff. “I wouldn’t say we’ve seen an increase in neglect in a kind of gross negligence kind of way, but in a realistic way,” she says.
If You Suspect Mistreatment, Move The Person From the Facility
If you see signs of elder abuse and suspect that neglect or abuse has occurred—including physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, or financial abuse—both attorneys stress that the first step should be to safely remove the vulnerable adult from the facility in question.
Next, call the authorities, such as law enforcement, the Adult Protective Services agency (APS), or the Department of Health, to report the suspected abuse.
Finally, get copies of medical records.
Document Everything and Keep Evidence
“Document everything,” adds Einhart. “Document as much as you can as quickly as you can. Write down everything you think or you fear may have happened, and take photos of all potential injuries.”
Such steps are crucial, he says, in the event that you need to file a lawsuit. “It is usually a personal injury attorney who will bring a civil action against a facility,” Einhart says.
Says Forspan: “When they’re in a facility, whether it’s a hospital, a rehab, or a long-term care facility, the best thing you can do for your loved one is to advocate. The old expression ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease’? When you advocate, they’re going to take care of your loved one.”
Find an Attorney with Experience Litigating Cases of Elder Abuse
If your loved one has been a victim of elder abuse, don’t hesitate to report elder abuse or get help from an attorney. To start your search for legal services, you can use the Super Lawyers’ directory to find an elder law attorney.
For additional information on the types of elder abuse, elder justice, and the protections against abuse of older persons under federal and state law, see our overview of elder law and related content on nursing home abuse.
Additional Elder Law articles
Find top lawyers with confidence
The Super Lawyers patented selection process is peer influenced and research driven, selecting the top 5% of attorneys to the Super Lawyers lists each year. We know lawyers and make it easy to connect with them.Find a lawyer near you