Chapter 36 Reporting Abuse and Neglect
REPORTING REQUIREMENTS… 36:1
METHOD OF REPORTING………….. 36:2
PENALTIES FOR FAILURE TO REPORT ABUSE & NEGLECT………….. 36:3
In recent years, there has been an increased emphasis in Nevada on addressing the crimes of abuse and neglect. The emphasis has expanded beyond just children to elder persons and those with a mental or psychological disability. One step in the expanded program is the requirement for certain persons to report occurrences of abuse or neglect. Physicians have both a legal duty to report known or suspected cases of abuse. The criminal penalties for abuse and neglect are severe, and the penalties for failing to report cases of abuse have, to some extent, followed suit. The chapter briefly outlines the statutory guidelines for reporting abuse and highlights the possible penalties for failure to report abuse.
NRS 200.508 makes it a crime, punishable as a misdemeanor or felony, to abuse or neglect, or to allow someone else to abuse or neglect, a child. The language of the statute makes clear that the term allow includes doing nothing to prevent or stop the abuse or neglect. NRS 200.508(3)(b). Though not designed specifically to apply to those who have an obligation to report abuse, this language could arguably apply to those individuals who fail to report abuse, especially the face of overwhelming evidence of its existence.
With regard to physicians, hospital staff and administrators, and other health care professionals, there are numerous statutes that more clearly require the reporting of cases of abuse or neglect. Although they deal with different classes of injured persons, such as children, elderly persons, or the mentally handicapped, the requirements are generally the same. Under NRS 200.5093, physicians, hospital personnel, and other health are providers, who, in their professional or occupational capacities, know or have reason to believe that an older person is being or has been abused, neglected, must report the abuse to either the local office of the aging services division of the Department of Human Resources, the sheriffs office, or protective services. NRS 200.5093. The responsibility carries over into those instances where the elder person dies as a result of the abuse or neglect. NRS 200.5093(4).
Similar language exists with regard to children, under NRS 432B.220. The requirement that health care professionals report cases of child abuse or neglect is clearly defined. NRS 432B.220. If a physician chooses to hold a potentially abused child for observation, or to prevent further abuse, the physician may only do so for 24 hours, and must report his or her actions immediately to the appropriate law enforcement agency or protective services agency. NRS 432B.400.
With regard to mentally handicapped patients or clients, the reporting requirements are essentially the same. Any employee of the division, or any other person who has reason to believe that a client has been or is being abused or neglected and fails to report it is guilty of a misdemeanor. NRS 433B.340. This law applies to minor patients as well as adults. NRS 433.554.
Nevada law obligates physicians to report certain conditions that are indicative of violent crimes. For example, providers of health care must report any person treated for certain burns, to include 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 5% or more of the body. NRS 629.045. While not always directly related to abuse or neglect, such injuries may be one of many factors eventually pointing to a finding of abuse. Physicians and other healthcare providers must also report all treatment for non-accidental shootings and stabbings. NRS 620.041.
METHOD OF REPORTING
NRS 432B.230 specifies the manner in which a physician or other person may report the known or suspected abuse of a child. Although there are not similar statutes for other classes of persons, presumably the same options and requirements would exist. Under 432B.230, a report may be made verbally, by telephone or otherwise. NRS 432B.230(1). If available, certain information must be contained in the report, including:
- The name, address, age, and sex of the child;
- The name and address of the childs parents or other responsible persons;
The nature and extent of the abuse or neglect;
- Evidence of previously known or suspected abuse or neglect of the child or a sibling;
- The name, address and relationship of the person suspected of abusing the child;
- Any other information, known by the reporter, and considered necessary by the protective services agency.
Reports should be filed as soon as there is sufficient evidence to support a suspicion of abuse, even if the physician cannot provide all the above information.
PENALTIES FOR FAILURE TO REPORT ABUSE & NEGLECT
There are criminal penalties for failing to report abuse or neglect. A physicians liability is not limited to civil penalties if he or she fails to do their duty. Under NRS 432B.240, any person who knowingly and wilfully violates the provisions of Chapter 432, specifically NRS 432B.220, is guilty of a misdemeanor. Note that the language used suggests intentional acts, not acts of negligence. Physicians should carefully consider both the legal consequences of failing to report, and more important, the potential for further abuse for the victim if the physician fails to report the abuse.
Physicians are in an unique position to identify abuse because of their relationship with a patient. Thus, the law places a burden upon them to report such abuse and imposes penalties for failure to report. Physicians should become familiar with the reporting requirements and ensure that they comply with them.