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Laws Protecting the Elderly and the Rise in Nursing Home Abuse

On Behalf of | Apr 22, 2020 | Personal Injury

It is common knowledge that many plaintiffs’ firms are primarily comprised of practice areas that include truck accidents, motor vehicle accidents, product liability, medical malpractice, personal injury, worker’s compensation, and nursing home neglect.  In the contingency world, the latter practice area has become an increasingly integral part of many of the firm’s bottom lines, particularly in Illinois.

From television commercials speaking directly to the elderly to high-tech websites with landing pages solely dedicated to nursing home abuse, lawyers are competing for more than ever for these cases.  Why and what are the factors that contribute to this increase in nursing home abuse and elder abuse lawsuits? Influences such as the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, the initiation of federal law to protect the elderly, and the attorney’s fees provisions associated with the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act all contribute to aiding local attorney’s bottom lines in the increasingly profitable nursing home neglect practice area.

In analyzing these questions, it is important to note that nursing home abuse differs from elder abuse.  Elder abuse can occur inside or outside of a nursing home.  Further, although there are several different types of services that affect seniors including adult day service centers, home health care providers, hospice care facilities, and residential care communities, this analysis will only focus on nursing homes.  Still, in order to provide a thorough analysis, the first half of this research paper will provide an overview of the elderly population as well as the federal and local legislation enacted to support and protect the elderly and nursing homes.  The second half of the paper will focus on the legal analysis of nursing home abuse.

The Facts by the Numbers

Nursing home and elder abuse are important to practice areas and profit centers for plaintiffs’ firms not only locally but across the United States.  This is because there are many elders that potentially need legal service.  According to the National Center for Health Statistics study on long-term care services in the United States as of 2013, there were approximately 15,700 nursing homes with a total of 1.7 million licensed beds. 1.4 million beds are occupied. 

There are many factors that contribute to the growth of the elderly population.  There are also many factors that contribute to the growth of nursing homes.  Therefore, the correlation in the rise of nursing home abuse is simple to follow.  The simplest facts that contribute include the rise in the elderly population; longer life expectancy for the population; the geographic area in which the elderly person resides; the income level and poverty level of the individual; the individual’s race; and the rise of the use of prescription drugs. In the 1990’s the growth of the elderly population (those 65 and over) was slow because of the relatively small number of babies born during the Great Depression of the 1930s. However, since then the elderly population ages 65 and over has increased from 35.5 million in 2002 to 43.1 million in 2012 and is expected to increase to 79.7 million in 2040. This means more that seniors are and more future seniors will be in need of long-term care.

In looking at the elderly population state-by-state, persons 65 and over constituted approximately 15 percent or more of the total population in 11 states in 2012 with Florida leading the way with 18.2 percent.  The other states with more than 15 percent of the population were Maine, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Montana, Vermont, Delaware, Iowa, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Arkansas.  Surprisingly, New York, Illinois, Arizona, California, or any of the other Sunbelt states made the list of states with the highest elderly population.

Other contributing factors to the rise in nursing home abuse include life expectancy, income, and race.  The longer people live, the greater the likelihood that many will need assistance as they continue to age.  In 2010, the average life expectancy at birth in the United States for the total population was 78.7 years (76.2 years for males and 81.0 for females). Also, the less money people make, the greater the likelihood that they will not be able to care for themselves and will have to turn to nurse homes to maintain their lives.  In America, over 3.9 million elderly persons (9.1 percent of the elderly) were below the poverty level in 2012. Additionally, another 2.4 million or 5.5 percent of the elderly were classified as “near-poor” (income between the poverty level and 125 percent of this level). Racially, just over 2.3 million elderly Whites were poor in 2012, compared to 18.2 percent of elderly Blacks and 20.6 percent of Hispanics. Big cities and the rural south also contribute to nursing home abuse with higher than average poverty rates found in for older persons who lived in principal cities (12.5 percent) and in the South (10.2 percent). Bundling these facts together with the ignorance regarding remedies associated with nursing home abuse and the historical unavailability of legal services for those with low incomes and minorities, it makes sense that many of the voices of the victims of nursing home abuse go unheard and their claims unreported.  This can especially hold true in big cities and in the south, were poverty and race tend to intersect most frequently.