We have all heard or read horror stories of abuse and neglect concerning disabled and elderly people in assisted living facilities. They tend to make the nightly news due to the emotional nature of the allegations leveled against these facilities, which are intended to safeguard some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The scandal and terror of finding that our trust has been misplaced is sometimes too much to bear.

If you are considering placing a loved one in an assisted living facility, or if you are a caregiver in one of these facilities, you should be educated about how and where to report violations. Incidents are few and far between, but they must be reported each and every time in order to keep residents safe and healthy. The easiest and most accessible tool for reporting incidents with businesses is the Internet--so we explored the online avenues for filing complaints against assisted living facilities.

Know the Rules

You must know the legal definitions of abuse, neglect, mistreatment, et cetera, before you can determine whether or not a violation is present. States differ in their legal definitions, so see your state laws for those explanations.

You must also determine what responsibilities are those of the care facility. That depends upon the contract used to establish care. Before signing anything, read it carefully and make copies! You do not want to be caught unawares by a small technicality in the fine print.

Location, Location, Location

Regulations depend entirely on your state. Some states are better at providing detailed records and streamlining the complaint review process; others have nothing available online at all, even in the digital age, aside from the phone number of a government agency to call.

...nationwide database for care facilities can be found at eldercare.gov...

A nationwide database for care facilities can be found at eldercare.gov, where complaints can be registered and more resources can be accessed. Maintained by the Administration on Aging, this site gives detailed, state by state information, including phone numbers of where to report elder abuse in a long term care facility and where to complain about a licensed facility.

APlaceforMom.com devised a method of evaluating how accessible state records are for assisted living facilities, which reveals just how much information you can get, and how easily you can get it, depending on where you live. Some states have information readily available online (Georgia, Pennsylvania, Colorado); others require layers of investigation that can be time-consuming (Mississippi, Kentucky, and the Dakotas). The link http://www.aplaceformom.com/assisted-living-state-licensing will take you to a map of the nation, where you can click on your state to receive information about the accessiblity of state records as well as a link to that state's department of health.

In the Moment

If you witness abuse and someone is currently in danger, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, you should call 9-1-1 immediately.

Beyond immediate danger happening before your eyes, you should search online for the agency responsible for tracking complaints in your area. This may be an ombudsman, the police, or Adult Protective Services.

Record any possible details that could assist investigators, such as time, location, employee names, et cetera.

The Moral of the Story

Despite the many digital avenues to report poor service or record customer interactions for many businesses, online complaint bureaus do not often exist for assisted living facilities. Many states will accept complaints by telephone, however, and allow you to remain anonymous when you file said complaint. Some exceptions to the lack of online resources are: Florida, Alabama, Washington, and Arizona. (There are more, however! You will have to find them for your individual state.)

Retain records of incidents, contracts, comments, phone calls--anything that could be of interest should you need to file a complaint in order to protect your loved one. Legal investigations that are successful require as much evidence of wrongdoing as possible, and keeping accurate documentation is the best way to ensure that assisted living facilities are doing their jobs.

For more information about resources available in your area for filing complaints, see the sources below.

Sources

Administration on Aging. National Center on Elderly Abuse. State Resource Directory. Available at http://ncea.aoa.gov/Stop_Abuse/Get_Help/State/Directory.aspx?state_id=GA. Retrieved 02/02/2016.

Department of Health and Human Services. Eldercare Locator. Elder Abuse Prevention. Available at http://www.eldercare.gov/eldercare.net/public/resources/topic/Elder_Abuse.aspx. Retrieved 02/02/2016.

A Place for Mom. State Guide to Assisted Living Records & Reports. Available at http://www.aplaceformom.com/assisted-living-state-licensing. Retrieved 02/02/2016.

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