Steps to Take After Medical Abuse or Neglect

Chronic Illness Chronic Illness Journey getting help Medical Abuse Medical Neglect mental illness

The Unfortunate Reality

For anyone seeking care from the medical community, we unfortunately must accept that mistakes happen. Keep in mind, though, that just because a mistake happens, does not mean it was a case of abuse/neglect. So, before we discuss steps to take after abuse/neglect, let's review some things to keep in perspective.

1. Medical Professionals are human beings. They do not have infinite knowledge

2. Medical providers are "practicing" medicine. Mistakes will happen and wrong decisions will be made throughout their career as they continue to learn.

3. Whether a mistake is abuse/neglect depends on the attitude of the medical professional and whether it was an avoidable mistake.

Steps to Take after Medical Abuse or Neglect

The first thing is to calm down. Wise decisions can't be made when we are at the height of our emotions. Next, determine if the mistake was an accident or true abuse/neglect. Either way, the next step would be a calm discussion with the provider with a witness present. The Bible says, "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger." (Proverbs 15:1) You would be surprised how many bad situations can be resolved with calm and kind speech. If the provider is resistant despite your calm attitude or denies that a mistake happened, you now have to make a choice. Either choose to move on to another provider and/or choose to make a formal complaint.

We spoke with Marilyn Whitley, MSN, RN, NE-BC, BCPA the CEO of Whitley Patient Advocates for advice on how to proceed with a formal complaint. One question that may be a concern whether the doctor will retaliate by compromising care if a complaint is made. Ms. Whitely said that "Retaliation should Never be in question, however it is always a worry." Fortunately, Ms. Whitely went on to say that most large care facilities have corporate compliance anonymous lines and all long term care (LTC) and acute care facilities have anonymous state complaint lines. Thus, you can reach out to them so the provider is not even aware you made the complaint. 

Speaking specifically about LTC facilities, Ms. Whitley suggested starting with an email as written documentation is always best. Then, move on to your states Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) as they will respond to all complaints. Ms. Whitely's advice about a LTC facility should work for any medical abuse/neglect situation. Before taking this action though, we recommend you decide and seek counsel on whether the error was large enough to warrant the stress it will cost you to make a formal complaint. Abuse/neglect can be difficult to prove and sadly doctors are often believed before patients. Ms. Whitley said that independent patient advocates who are experienced in medical abuse and neglect will be able to help direct you to the proper authorities for the complaint. (They should also be able to help you decide whether a formal complaint is warranted.)

Should Law Enforcement or Lawyers be Involved?

Ms. Whitley says, "Law enforcement I would consider with severity and circumstances." She recommends if actual physical harm takes place to, "...do all of the above and contact the county sheriffs department and file a complaint as well simultaneously." As far as lawyers, Ms. Whitley gave the following advice. "Lawyers will typically only take a case if there is wrongful harm.  Poor care, staffing & poor outcomes they will not take on. Those would have to be taken on with the facility itself by the family." Again, an independent patient advocate can help you in deciding what steps to take.

Indirect Medical Abuse and Neglect

Medical abuse and neglect is not always something that can be proven as sometimes it happens on the emotional level or only causes indirect physical harm due to poor service from the provider. In these situations, it may be best to just move on rather than make a formal complaint. In some circumstances, though, you will at least be able to leave a patient review so you can help others avoid that provider. Just remember to stick with the facts and not get emotional or vengeful as that can negate your opinion to those reading. 

Finding Healing

Ultimately, the most important thing is for you to find emotional and physical healing from the ordeal. Find a new provider that you can trust and who treats you well. Whether it's friends, family, counselor, or patient advocate, find someone to talk to who can help you work through things emotionally. I (Laura) have found it healing to speak with people in my medical support groups as they have often been through similar things and also have great advice on actions to take. 

Last, but not least, forgive. This is the hard part especially if you are living through a situation where someone died or a life changed forever because of abuse or neglect. Here's the thing though; until you can forgive, you will never be able to fully heal.

I held bitterness for years against the doctor who misdiagnosed my sister. After 10 years of living with epilepsy, Lisa was taken to a well known, expert hospital when her seizures suddenly become uncontrollable. We found out later that they assigned her a doctor specializing in Autism (not epilepsy) and he told my parents because he couldn't see anything on the EEG (Lisa's seizure site was deep in the brain and EEG didn't always pick it up) that Lisa had outgrown her seizures and was having anxiety attacks manifesting as pseudo-seizures. He removed her seizure meds and gave her anxiety meds with instructions to return in 3 months. For the next three months, Lisa had at least 80 seizures a day and that isn't counting her nighttime seizures. It was awful and our whole family suffered through the stress of it all. After 3 months, she went back and through a series of events the doctor recognized his mistake and shortly after all of Lisa's medical records from the time she was 5 years old were "lost" without a trace.

It was just recently that God showed me that I was still angry with that doctor and you know what? God helped me to forgive him and the freedom I have now that I've let the bitterness go is amazing.

If you need someone to share your heartache with, we are here to listen. If you need advice on actions to take, Ms. Whitley said, "I’m happy to help and we offer free consultations, so we can always listen and offer resources." Her contact info is below.

Marilyn Whitley, MSN, RN, NE-BC, BCPA 

CEO of Whitley Patient Advocates (WOSB)
252-269-7073
 God bless you on your journey!
Love from all of us at Pine and Sunshine!

 

 


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