As repeated news stories and reports from various watchdog agencies make clear, life in many nursing homes is far from the safe, caring world that its residents expect and need. In exchange for large amounts of money from residents and their families, and even larger amounts from Medicaid and Medicare, many nursing home residents find themselves in understaffed facilities where the staff that does exist is too often underpaid, overworked, and undertrained. As a result, many nursing home residents suffer injuries, indignities, and adverse health consequences in the very places they are sent for protection.
All despite nominal protection from laws like the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA). That law applies to all nursing homes that get Medicare or Medicaid funds and specifies both the rights of nursing home residents and minimum standards for many aspects of care, including resident nutrition, use of restraints, and the prevention and care of bed sores.
The NHRA doesn’t provide nursing home residents with the right to sue the facility for violations, but an experienced Alabama nursing home injury attorney can use any violations as evidence that the nursing home was negligent.
Typical Nursing Home Failings
The most common nursing home failings that injure residents involve the facility’s staff:
- Not enough staff members to perform the work needed to keep residents healthy and safe
- Staff members with known or discoverable histories of violence and criminal behavior
- Inadequately trained staff
- Inadequately supervision, which allows management to prevent mistreatment, identifying staff that are incompetent, abusive, etc.
- Inattentive staff who fail to detect, and/or report incidents of resident distress, neglect, etc.
- Failure of management to create, distribute, and enforce adequate policies
- Failure to follow up on reported abuse and neglect
- Failure to keep the premises free of hazards to residents
No list of injuries from nursing home abuse and neglect could be exhaustive, but the following are among the most common:
- Bedsores, also known as pressure sores
- Malnutrition and dehydration
- Physical and sexual abuse
- Various adverse consequences of medication errors
- Emotional and psychological damage (especially anxiety, fear, withdrawal, loss of confidence or self-efficacy)
Malnutrition and Dehydration
Malnutrition and dehydration are dangerous conditions for people in nursing homes, but the conditions are repeatedly found by researchers to be rampant. Whatever the reason that residents end up this way, better monitoring by the staff would identify those who need help in time for the conditions to be corrected before damage is done.
Nutrition deficits produce weakness and retard the healing process. In a nursing home, malnutrition puts residents at increased risk for many injuries and illnesses.
Dehydration is associated with advanced age. Even mild cases are dangerous for residents with certain medical conditions, like cardiac or renal problems. It may result from a variety of causes in a nursing home setting. Some of those causes—such as residents’ inability to obtain drinks on their own—reflect staff negligence. As with malnutrition, the condition could be corrected before residents experience adverse consequences if the staff was alert.
The risk of nursing home falls is hardly surprising, given that many residents are in the nursing home precisely because they have balance, strength, or awareness problems. The risk is further increased if there is insufficient staff to help residents move or to answer calls for assistance.
Nursing homes often defend claims based on falls by asserting ignorance of the risk that a specific resident would fall. But there is considerable research available to show that residents are generally among the population likely to fall. There is also considerable research on:
- The reasons that people fall
- The kinds of injuries produced in falls
- How older people react psychologically to having fallen
- The kinds of efforts that may reduce or prevent falls
An experienced attorney can use this widely known information to establish that the nursing home facility either did know or should have known about the risk.
Bed sores are a well known risk for people who spend long times in bed or wheelchairs. Proper care could prevent them from forming—an easier task than treating them—and could catch them early enough to prevent serious harm when they do form. But that requires adequate numbers of adequately trained and adequately motivated staff.
The facility’s failure to provide appropriate staffing can, in the worst cases, lead to amputations, blood poisoning (septicemia), and even death.
Physical abuse of nursing home residents—both sexual and otherwise—occurs fairly frequently. The vulnerability of residents both makes it easier for them to be abused, and magnifies the psychological effects of the abuse.
The most vulnerable residents are usually the ones targeted, often those with impaired cognitive abilities. They may not understand what’s happening and, if they do report the abuse, may not be believed. Communication impairments and physical disabilities also make residents targets.
Both physical and sexual abuse cause considerable psychological injury and, in an old and relatively unhealthy population, may produce serious physical injuries as well.
Most residents are on some medications; many are on several. Combined with frequent staff turnover, poor training, the usual problems with handwriting and memory lapses, and the possibility of medication changes not being adequately communicated, the risk of medication errors is high in the nursing home setting.
Medication errors may involve:
- Ordering errors (wrong med, wrong dose, adverse interactions, etc.)
- Delivery errors (giving meds to wrong patient)
- Failure to order monitoring of the resident appropriate to the circumstances
While not technically a “medication error,” residents may also suffer injury from the staff’s failure to recognize signs that a resident is having a bad reaction to a drug, or failure to respond appropriately to the bad reaction.
What If I signed an arbitration agreement?
It is not uncommon for the sponsor of a nursing home resident to be required to sign all manner of documents in order to get their loved one admitted. Frequently, one of the required documents contains an arbitration clause that bars future lawsuits alleging neglect or poor care by the facility. Don’t worry. Drake Law Firm has years of experience in getting around these agreements, particularly when the resident suffers from dementia or some other mental disorder that prevents them from understanding the documents.
Nursing home injury cases tend to be a battle of evidence. What did the nursing home do, what is the home saying it did, and what can you prove? All with a background of anger and stress over what happened to your friend or family member.
Drake Law is a small Birmingham firm with a big reputation. Our highly-rated attorneys handle only injury cases through all stages: investigation, obtaining and organizing the medical records, negotiating with the nursing home or other defendant, filing the claim, and litigating the case through settlement or jury verdict.
Get the benefit of our 25 years of experience and record of success. Call and tell us what’s been happening at the nursing home that has you concerned. There’s no charge for getting our take on the case, so call today to schedule an appointment to speak with our nursing home neglect and abuse attorneys.