Horrifying stories of vulnerable elderly and disabled people being hit, unreasonably restrained, and even sexually assaulted catch the media’s attention and put families on guard. But the risks to nursing home residents go far beyond intentional violence. For those who are wholly or partly dependent on others for their food, hygiene, and medical care, neglect can be fatal.
One of these risks was briefly in the spotlight earlier this year, when six employees and a contractor at Whetstone Gardens and Care Center in Columbus were charged with involuntary manslaughter and a mix of other crimes. One of the two patients at the center of the investigation and resulting charges died of septic shock as a result of untreated bedsores.
Bedsores, also known as pressure ulcers, are common in nursing homes and other residential care facilities because many residents have limited mobility or are bedridden. However, the level and quality of care provided plays a significant role in determining both the rate at which residents suffer from bedsores and the likelihood of serious complications. For example, a facility providing high-quality care will ensure that residents move around to the degree they are able. Maintaining mobility has many possible health benefits, including reducing the risk of pressure sores.
Even if a resident’s mobility is seriously limited, measures such as ensuring that a wheelchair is properly fitted and shifting the resident’s weight at regular intervals when bedridden can significantly reduce the likelihood of bedsores. When a resident does have bedsores, immediate and appropriate care can make all the difference. Neglected bedsores may have a wide range of serious consequences, including gangrene and other infections that can lead to the loss of a limb or death.
Bedsores are both serious enough and indicative enough of negligent care that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Standards (CMS) regulations include specific provisions relating to identification, avoidance, and treatment of pressure ulcers. But there are many other serious risks associated with nursing home negligence.
What is Nursing Home Neglect?
Nursing home neglect has been described as “the failure of the facility, its employees, or service providers to provide goods or services to a resident that are necessary to avoid physical harm, pain, mental anguish, or emotional distress.” Neglect is not willful–withholding of the same types of goods and services intentionally or as punishment would be classified as abuse, though the impact might be identical.
Some of the most common types of nursing home neglect include:
Falls: Falls are common among the elderly, whether in residential care facilities or living independently. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about three million older Americans are treated for fall-related injuries each year. More than 280,000 older adults are hospitalized for hip fractures sustained in falls each year, and about 30,000 die. But many falls are avoidable. Nursing homes are required to conduct fall assessments on residents, and to adapt the resident’s care plan based on that risk.
Choking: While a person of any age can choke, the elderly and people with certain diseases and disorders are at higher risk. More than half of choking fatalities occur among those aged 75 and older. The risk can be minimized in a nursing home setting by properly assessing the patient and providing an appropriate diet, including a soft or pureed diet if necessary. Staff training is also critical, since the ability to recognize signs of choking and respond swiftly and appropriately can mean the difference between life and death.
Dehydration and Malnutrition: A wide variety of factors can impact nutrition and hydration in the elderly, from loss of appetite to problems absorbing nutrients. In some cases, the cause may be as simple as an elderly person forgetting to drink throughout the day, or not having easy access to water in a facility. Nursing home staff must monitor what residents eat and drink and take note of inadequate consumption and/or any changes in body weight, skin texture, or other health issues that may indicate the resident is not getting enough nutrients or hydration.
Medication Errors: Nursing home residents in the United States suffer more than one million avoidable adverse drug reactions each year. Tens of thousands of these reactions are fatal or life-threatening. Some common causes include administering the wrong medication, administering the wrong dosage, neglecting to administer medication, or giving medication to the wrong resident.
Infections: The elderly and disabled may be particularly susceptible to infections that impact people of all ages. For example, those who are incontinent, are dehydrated, and/or are catheterized are at greater risk for urinary tract infections. And elderly people who may be experiencing cognitive deterioration may not recognize or report symptoms. But urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and other common infections can be fatal if left untreated.
Be Alert for Signs of Nursing Home Neglect
It’s important to be on the lookout for signs of neglect, both when choosing a nursing home for a loved one and during residency. Educating yourself in advance can help you recognize signs and assess risk factors. For instance, one recent study showed that neglect was more common in for-profit residential care facilities than in nonprofit nursing homes.
Some signals to watch for include:
- Poor personal hygiene among residents generally and your loved one in particular;
- Unsanitary conditions in common areas, resident rooms, bathrooms, and other areas;
- Loss of mobility after entering the facility;
- Decline in general health, such as signs of malnutrition;
- Cognitive decline;
- Unexplained injuries.
If you believe that your loved one has been the victim of nursing home abuse or is being neglected to the detriment of his or her mental and physical health, contact the experienced Ohio nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys of Plevin & Gallucci. Nursing home abuse and neglect cases can be complicated and difficult to prove, so choosing the right attorney is important. The lawyers at Plevin & Gallucci have the knowledge and experience necessary to fight for the rights of the elderly and disabled.
You can schedule a free consultation right now by filling out the form on this page.