Understanding When to Act Upon Signs of Neglect

When you suspect signs of neglect with a patient, it’s rarely an easy situation to navigate. Sometimes, it can feel like you’re overstepping into a “family matter,” but it’s important that you don’t ignore your instincts. It’s an essential part of your duty as a nurse, and you could be held liable if neglect is found to be present and you didn’t report it.

Here are some tips to help you understand when and how to act upon signs of neglect.

Red Flags to Watch Out For

There are a few commons signs of neglect in adult patients that you should stay on the lookout for. They include:

    • Malnourishment and weight loss
    • Poor hygiene
    • Symptoms of depression or anxiety
    • Physical injuries like cuts and bruises
    • Withdrawal from family members

Assess the Patient’s Condition Regularly

The next step is to assess the patient’s condition on a regular basis. Make sure that you take the time to differentiate signs and symptoms like those listed above from the ill effects that may be caused by the patient’s condition. If you find that the patient’s ailments shouldn’t be causing some of the effects you’re seeing, something is wrong. Neglect or abuse might be happening, so it’s up to you to act on your findings.

Document Observations and Tell Your Supervisor

Document your observations so that there is a record. Now, go to your supervisor to voice your concerns. Explain the situation and what reasons you have for believing that you’ve found signs of neglect. From there, the patient’s immediate physician may be notified, or the matter may be passed up the chain of command. In any case, you’ve done your duty as a nurse and reported the signs that concerned you — there’s nothing wrong with trusting your instincts.

Consult With an Attorney if Necessary

If your supervisors aren’t supporting your concerns about neglect or abuse, consider consulting with an attorney about the matter. You want to make sure you’re not personally liable for a lack of reporting on the patient’s neglect. With the help of an attorney — one specializing in healthcare matters, if at all possible — you’ll be able to rest assured knowing that you’ve done the right thing and can’t be held legally responsible.


Want to learn more about common situations you’ll face as a nurse?

Visit BOS Medical’s blog for more great insights, and contact our staffing professionals if you’re interested in growing and advancing your nursing career. We’re here for you!

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