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Nursing Homes Fail to Prevent Growing Number of Resident Suicides

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Suicide rates across the nation have been continually rising at an alarming rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 47,000 Americans died by suicide in 2017. What is less known, however, is that the elderly living in long-term care facilities are particularly prone to suicidal ideations and attempts. The rate of suicide among the elderly has skyrocketed to the point that other institutions have taken notice and made an effort to further research the issue.

According to University of Michigan researchers, roughly one long-term care resident dies by suicide every day. While this number is distressingly high, researchers estimate it is likely much higher, as accurate records are not always kept regarding suicides in nursing homes and other assisted living facilities. To make matters worse, one-third of all long-term care residents have reported thoughts of suicide, which heightens their risk of succumbing to this tragedy.

In fact, between 2003 and 2015, University of Michigan researchers found that of all the suicides committed by those 55 years or older, 2.2% were directly related to long-term care.

Long-Term Care Facilities Fail to Take Necessary Measures to Prevent Resident Suicide

Every lost life is heartbreaking, and sadly, nursing homes do not always take the appropriate actions to prevent tragedies like this from happening. Some facilities simply do not have the staff, the training or other necessary means to properly care for at-risk patients.

Factors indicative of suicide that some facilities may miss include mental health, physical decline, disconnectedness and “events such as losing a spouse or leaving one’s home,” according to Kaiser Health News.

Through Kaiser Health News’ analysis of over 500 attempted and completed suicides between 2012 and 2017, they found state inspectors had indicated some nursing homes did not give proper attention to suicide warning signs, and other homes simply evicted suicidal residents.

In some cases, federally funded facilities were fined for not taking appropriate measures to prevent suicides. One Massachusetts home was fined $66,705 in 2016 after an 81-year-old resident shot and killed himself with his roommate nearby. An Ohio facility had to pay $42,575 in 2016 after a resident hanged himself in the same spot he had attempted suicide six months prior.

It goes without saying, failure to notice warning signs of suicide in a healthcare setting and evicting suicidal residents is never okay. Going forward, long-term care facilities should be more alert of warning signs for at-risk patients.

Warning Signs of Suicide to Look For

Research indicates that a cancer diagnosis or losing a spouse increases a person’s likelihood of suicide. Additionally, depression, debility, access to deadly means and disconnectedness are four strong indicators of suicide, Dr. Yeates Conwell told KHN.

While not everyone voices their thoughts of suicide, those that do should be taken seriously. Any complaints of depression, loneliness, not wanting to live, having lived “long enough,” or feelings of despair should be reported so proper psychiatric care can be given.

The means by which long-term care facility residents commit suicide should also be taken into consideration. Records show that nursing home residents have used a variety of methods over the years. Several used in the past include guns, hanging, suffocation with plastic bags, overdosing on pills or jumping from open windows. Proper precautions should be taken in light of these methods – e.g. suicide-proof windows in rooms with at-risk patients, etc.

In terms of prevention, it has been suggested that long-term care facilities screen potential residents for depression. This way, the facility is aware of the risk from the very beginning. From there forward, screening residents throughout their duration at the facility should be a priority.

Jehl Law Group Can Help Those Affected By Nursing Home Negligence

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are in place so that elderly residents receive the highest quality care in older age. Staff members are to provide for patients’ basic, daily needs and any medical concerns. Failing to properly meet those needs is a problem.

Understaffing and medication mismanagement are two ways in which facilities may not properly prevent suicides. If not enough staff is on hand to notice changes in resident behavior, or if anti-depressant medication or mood stabilizers are not appropriately given, it could be the difference between life and death.

If you or someone you know has suffered from the effects of suicide due to nursing home negligence, please do not wait to get help. Our attorneys have years of experience helping families who have been touched by nursing home abuse and neglect, and we would be glad to have the opportunity to help you through this difficult time. Call us today at (901) 322-4232 for a free, confidential consultation.