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Is the Flu Evidence of Nursing Home Abuse?

Since the middle of December 2017, over 106 people have died from influenza. This makes this flu season the worst in recent times. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) claims this infectious disease affects people in 46 states. Additionally, it has caused an increase of hospitalization of people over the age of fifty.

At this time, many health experts cannot explain why this season is so horrible. They also cannot predict when it will be over. The CDC warns that this flu season will be especially hard for those in long-term care and nursing homes. Even though this season is terrible, you may want to understand if evidence of the flu could mean nursing home abuse.

Definitions of Elder Abuse

Before a person can claim neglect or abuse, understand some general definitions associated with elder abuse. Elder abuse includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, financial exploitation, and neglect.

A senior citizen has been physically abused when physical force has caused pain or injury. If a senior has suffered unwanted or nonconsensual contact with another person in a sexual nature, they may suffer from sexual abuse. If an abuser verbally attacks, humiliates, threatens, or harasses an elder victim, talk to a lawyer about the affects of emotional abuse. Financial exploitation happens when an abuser withholds or misuses the victim’s resources. Finally, neglect can be defined as when an abuser fails to provide necessary personal care items such as food, water, shelter, social interaction, medical care, etc. to the victim.

However, does an infectious disease fall into any of these categories?

Risk Factors

When deciding if the influenza is an indication of negligence in a nursing facility, an attorney will explore the factors that put elders at risk for any type of abuse. The following factors put some adults at a higher risk of abuse and neglect:

  • Impairment of cognitive skills
  • Dependency or physical handicaps which make the elder dependent on others
  • Unable to express ideas and wishes
  • Social or geographic isolation
  • Limited financial means

When an elder has cognitive issues such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, a nursing home may miss symptoms. This lack of understanding the needs of the patient can turn into neglect.

If the elder is entirely dependent on others for daily activities, a shortage of nursing home staff can affect a senior. When an elder cannot express discomfort or illness, the nursing staff can easily miss influenza symptoms.

The social and geographic isolation associated with nursing homes or extended care units can limit visitations with family members. Visitors may recognize flu symptoms that even the most dedicated staff can miss.

When issues arise in a nursing home or other units, a lack of financial resources may limit the choices of new arrangements for the elderly. Government policies and the availability of services also affect where a patient is placed. Sometimes, these items allow a patient to be placed in a unit which is ill-equipped to handle their particular needs.

Elder Abuse Neglect Act

In 1988, Illinois addressed the issue of elder abuse by establishing the Illinois Elder Abuse and Neglect Act. From this act, the Illinois Department on Aging has implemented the Elder Abuse and Neglect Program. This program is a statewide system that responds to allegations of elder abuse as defined previously.

The Elder Abuse and Neglect Program works with men and women over the age of sixty in resolving abusive situations. However, if the person is in a long-term care unit or nursing facility, the Illinois Department of Public Health will investigate.

When dealing with federal and state agencies, it can be confusing and frustrating. If a person needs guidance in these types of situations, call the Law Offices of R.F. Wittmeyer, Ltd where they can help navigate these programs and systems.

CDC Recommendations

When looking for evidence of negligence, a person should look for signs that the nursing facility has not followed the CDC recommendations for this season. The CDC recommends for nursing and long-term services to prepare for an extreme season. The flu strain many have encountered differs from the vaccine.


The CDC says the most critical part of the warning is health care providers must be ready to give antiviral medicine to those at the highest risk. These people include those with lung disease, diabetes, elders, etc.

Tamiflu and Relenza should be given even if you suspect someone has influenza. You may start these antivirals while waiting for lab results to confirm the disease. Besides beginning antivirals immediately, the CDC recommends nursing facilities to take a three-pronged approach.

Three-Pronged Approach

    1. Make sure the patient receives an annual influenza shot. These shots help to protect the individual from the most common strains of the disease. The CDC also recommends all health care providers to receive an influenza shot to prevent spreading it to patients. Ensure that the nursing home has vaccinated all employees.
    2. Take preventive steps to decrease the spread of germs. These steps include:
      • Limiting contact with the ill
      • Covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
      • Washing hands frequently
      • Disinfecting objects and surfaces
    3. Ensure the patient takes an antiviral drug if a doctor prescribed one to the patient. If a health care provider is inconsistent in providing these prescribed medications, it may also indicate abuse.

R.F. Wittmeyer

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