TACOMA, Wash. - Relatives, friends and neighbors of older Washingtonians
are being asked to take a closer look at the seniors' health and
everyday living situations this month - and if something doesn't seem
right, to speak up. July is "Adult Abuse Prevention Month" and last
year, the Department of Social and Health Services received more than
14,000 reports of alleged neglect or mistreatment - although the agency
estimates only one in five cases is reported.
Attorney Mike Fisher chairs the Nursing Home Litigation and Elder Abuse
Section of the Washington Association for Justice. He urges
people to share their concerns with those who have the authority to
intervene if necessary.
"You need to be an advocate on that person's behalf; you need to be
involved. You need to go visit them; you need to go check on the person
who is caring for them. I think it always comes down to having family
involved who are there, and paying attention and making sure the care is
If the person is a nursing home resident, Fisher says complaints are
critical because they help state investigators identify patterns at the
facility that should be addressed. All too often, people keep quiet
because they are embarrassed or worry about retribution, he says.
"People are in these facilities because they're dependent on somebody to
care for them 24 hours a day, and they fear that if they make a report,
or make a complaint, that they're somehow going to be retaliated
Fisher says it's important to be observant and ask questions. He
suggests keeping notes about conditions, behaviors and conversations
with older friends and relatives, as well as the names of nurses and
caregivers. He also says visiting at random times will help give a
clearer picture of what's going on.
"The family members sometimes just assume, 'Well, y'know, mom's getting
sicker. She's lived a long life and she's here in this facility being
taken care of by professionals - if there was a problem, they would do
something about it.' There's a lack of recognition of the problem, up
Fisher points out that the people who know the older person best are
also the ones best able to determine if complaints might be valid.
From financial exploitation to abuse and neglect, and even self-neglect,
there is a statewide hotline to report concerns: 1-866-END-HARM
(363-4276). The more information the caller is able to provide, the
better investigators can determine how to help, Fisher says.