What is Considered Patient Abuse?
According to the New Hampshire Department of Justice, “Patient abuse or neglect is any action or failure to act which causes unreasonable suffering, misery or harm to the patient. It includes physically striking or sexually assaulting a patient. It also includes withholding of necessary food, physical care, and medical attention” (2010). If you or someone you know has been a victim of such abuse, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and make sure that the abuse does not continue.
When to Report Abuse
Any time abuse is suspected, there should be an investigation. Do not wait until it is too late. The very worst thing that can happen is a patient losing their life to the hands of negligence and abuse. This is a vicious cycle that will not stop at just one patient. It will continue if left unchecked.
Let Your Voice be Heard…Loudly
Whether you are the victim or the family member of a victim, it is essential that any abuse by health care providers be reported. It is equally as important to not let your abuser trick you into thinking that you are alone and/or that no one will believe you. Any type of abuser, be it a medical professional or otherwise, will tell their victim that they will do further damage to them if they tell anyone. This is a lie; they only fear of being found out and disciplined.
There are agencies in place that advocate for patient’s rights and well being.
• Adult Protective Services (APS): when a report is made to APS, they follow through with an investigation. Depending on the findings, criminal charges will be brought against the abuser(s).
• Department of Aging: in cases involving abuse within a nursing home or assisted living, the Department of Aging is an option. They will advocate for the patient’s rights and can assist in how to file charges.
• Local Law Enforcement: local law enforcement can take a statement from the victim, thus making a record of the incident. An investigation will follow such statements. It should be noted that in some cases, local police are not trained to work with people with mental disorders. Some states are trying to remedy that by providing such training.
• Medicaid Fraud Control Unit: if the patient is a Medicaid recipient, the agency has the authority to investigate claims of patient abuse.
• Department of Human Resources: this is a good resource since they have an exhaustive list of statewide human and health services. At the very least, this agency should be able to point you in the right direction.
• Attorney General’s Office: the Attorney General’s Office should be contacted if other resources have failed to their job.
• Contact a Lawyer: a lawyer that specializes in medical malpractice or patient abuse and neglect will know what steps to take to ensure patient safety.
• Internet Resources: each state has different agencies and laws that protect patients from abuse and neglect. If you are able, use the Internet to search for your state’s agencies.
New Hampshire Department of Justice (2010). What is patient abuse and neglect? http://doj.nh.gov/medicaid/whatispan.html