Fighting Long-Term Care Abuse in Colorado

How to guard against nursing home abuse or neglect, and what to do if it occurs

By Jessica Glynn | Last updated on March 2, 2023

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As a lawyer who has sued nursing homes for abuse and neglect, Anna Holland Edwards can give advice on how to prove such claims, but she knows it’s more important to first talk about how to prevent the kinds of cases she sees most often: wrongful death.

“I see a lot of preventable deaths, especially falls, a lot of infections that are caught really late, and dehydration,” says the civil rights and wrongful death attorney at Holland, Holland Edwards & Grossman in Denver. “Lawsuits are not pleasant. It’s a hard, long process, and expensive and emotional.”

As a result, she adds, the first goal when searching for a nursing home “is to find a facility you feel comfortable with, a care team that you feel is paying attention to your loved one’s needs, and to know the resources so you never need to talk to me.”

The second goal? Be present. That starts with attending the care conference for your loved one’s care plan—which should be specific to their needs and risks—and understanding it well enough to know if it’s being followed, Holland Edwards says.

“That’s really important because when you’re in the room, if you know someone is supposed to be repositioned every two hours and they’re not, then you know to go advocate,” she says. “Try to be there at staff change times when staff is low. That’s often when care will fall through the cracks.”

If you can’t be physically present due to distance or concerns like COVID-19, it’s still important to know the care plan, attend conferences virtually and check in often, ideally via video to get eyes on how your loved one looks. Putting up signs in the room about their needs can also be helpful, especially with temporary or newer staff.

If You See Something, Do Something

When you have concerns, make sure they’re communicated and documented. “It helps improve care to have things in writing and provides proof so people can’t say later that they didn’t know the situation,” Holland Edward says.

In the case of suspected abuse, Holland Edwards says to act quickly. Call the police or Adult Protective Services and go straight to the director of nursing to report the caregiver you’re worried about and ask that video footage from shared spaces and hallways is reviewed and preserved for law enforcement.

Injuries inconsistent with the story being told is often the first indication of abuse, and there are a variety of ways to prove it, including testimony from the resident, their roommate or roommate’s family members; and common area video showing who is entering a resident’s room.

“If you suspect neglect or abuse at a nursing home, document it,” agrees Jordana Griff Gingrass, an elder abuse and neglect attorney at Law Offices of J.M. Reinan in Denver. “Take pictures. Raise your concerns to staff—to the nurse, the director of nursing, the doctor, perhaps the facility administrator. You can also ask to speak to the facility ombudsman who is there specifically to advocate for residents.”

Arbitration Agreements in Homes

If all this doesn’t address the concerns, Gingrass suggests calling a lawyer. A consultation is free, but one of the first things an attorney will ask is whether you signed an arbitration agreement. People often think they have to sign in order to admit themselves or a family member to a nursing home, but that is not the case.

“Those are voluntary, and that is signing away your right to file a claim in court,” Gingrass says. “You cannot be denied admission based on opting not to sign. If you’re confused about it, call a lawyer. We’re happy to explain why we strongly feel those are not in the best interest of residents and their families who are hurt.”

Arbitration agreements should have a provision allowing them to be rescinded within 90 days. “It’s not a lot of time, but sometimes people call us who have been injured very recently and we’re able to rescind on their behalf,” Gingrass adds.

It’s important when looking at facilities to base decisions on objective data rather than glossy brochures, Gingrass adds. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment website, which makes inspection reports, citations and occurrences of abuse public, is a good place to start, as is the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, which in addition to investigating complaints can also help families find a facility.

“A good question to ask is about staffing,” Gingrass says. “More staff is better, and more quality staff is best. We see lots of problems with short staffing. When there are not enough hands there to care for everyone, people get neglected. … If there is not enough staff, or staff is not well trained, it can be a recipe for disaster.”

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