Bed sores are some of the most common and pervasive ailments to beset nursing homes and their patients across the country. They are dangerous for elderly people as they lead to infection, sepsis and even death. Because nursing home residents are vulnerable, nursing home staff and medical professionals are legally obliged to act quickly and carefully when identifying and treating their patients who have bed sores.
Bed Sore Risk Factors
Bed sores occur when a nursing home patient is left in the same position for too long. The decreased blood flow from pressure limits the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to certain areas of the skin causing the tissue to die. This causes deep tissue damage that worsens over time. The sores occur in bony prominences such as elbows, knees, hips or heels.
Depending on the severity, some patient’s sores heal with little complication. For others, lasting infection, injury and even death can occur. The ulcers can develop and progress rapidly, with little time for treatment. A sore can develop if the blood supply is cut off for more than two to three hours.
The Braden Scale for Predicting Pressure Ulcer Risk was created to identify risk factors for nursing home patients and to scale their susceptibility to bed sores. It’s intended to help medical professionals develop a plan of action and prevention for patients that may be at risk. The scale names activity level, mobility, nutrition, friction and shear among other risk factors for senior patients.
Bed sore prevention is possible. One effective way to prevent these sores is to regularly reposition the at-risk patient. A person who spends most of his or her time in bed is usually advised to change positions every two hours. Additionally, good hygiene and skin care can help in prevention efforts. Skin care includes checking the skin on a daily basis for signs of discoloration and using moisturizing products to prevent dryness. Patients who have strong mobility may be able to prevent bed sores by being active.
Nursing Home Staff Responsibility to Prevent Bed Sores
Federal regulations oblige liability of bed sore prevention on the nursing home medical staff. Their failure to provide the very basic care that is necessary to prevent bed sores from occurring may be the basis of a claim of violations of the federal Nursing Home Reform Care Act. To avoid complications and damage to the body, it is important that nursing homes and caretakers evaluate patients and execute prevention plans for at-risk patients.
Bed Sore Claims
People can sue for bed sore cases with a personal injury claim, medical malpractice claim, neglect claim or wrongful death claim.
Personal Injury Claim – Patients in nursing homes or hospitals should not develop bed sores. If patient care is not meeting basic requirements to prevent bed sores, especially when infection or death occurs, patients or their family members may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit. This is a civil lawsuit brought by the patient against the medical practitioners or nursing home recover money for experiencing bedsores.
Medical Malpractice – Doctors are required to provide a certain standard of care based upon federal and state regulations of nursing homes. If these standards (such as not turning an immobile patient frequently or not providing proper hygiene to the patient) are not met, medical malpractice may be alleged. Failure to diagnose bed sores or admit a patient for infection and failure to provide treatment are also considered malpractice.
Neglect – Some issues that may result in a bed sore negligence filing include not receiving the proper type or dosage of medication, lack of supervision, inadequate wound care or not reporting bed sores in a timely manner to minimize the harm. Other examples of negligence include failing to reposition the patient periodically, failing to diagnose bed sores in a timely manner, failing to prevent exacerbation of bed sores that result in infection or amputation, failing to order consultations or failing to perform a medical procedure properly.
Wrongful Death – If a patient’s bed sores are left untreated to the point of infection and death, their family may bring forth a wrongful death lawsuit. This lawsuit attempts to provide compensation to family members who have lost a loved one due to the wrongful acts of caretakers. A personal injury lawyer can explain what type of legal claim may be available based on the particular circumstances of the case.
Rights of Seniors in Nursing Homes
Seniors have natural born rights when it comes to the medical care they receive in nursing homes. Some of these rights include being fully informed of their total health status in a language they understand, being informed of prescribed medications and legal entitlement to the choice of doctor. Nursing home patients have the right to be free from verbal, sexual, physical and mental abuse. Nursing homes can’t keep you apart from everyone else against your will.
Both the Nursing Home Reform Act, passed by Congress in 1987 for Medicare and Medicaid patients, and general federal regulations state that if a resident enters a nursing home without bed sores, they should not develop them unless they are clinically unavoidable. This means that caretakers must take every possible step of prevention to keep bed sores from developing. If a resident does develop bed sores, the federal regulations require the nursing home to provide care to promote healing and prevent infection.
By law, nursing homes must develop a general care plan for each resident. Patients have the right to take part in this process and family members can also help with your care plan with your permission. Legal guardians have the right to look at all medical records and make important decisions on the patient’s behalf.
Examples of Bed Sore Settlements
Below are examples of settlements and verdicts in cases of patients who have been affected by bedsores:
An 88-year-old man developed sacral and buttocks bed sores for 40 days before he died. His wife alleged that the bed sore formed were caused by neglect. The case settled for $300,000.
While under the care of a Burlington nursing home, an 88-year-old woman developed an absurd amount of bed sores on her body. She suffered from the bed sores for a total of 21 months before she passed away at the age of 90. Her estate sued the nursing facility on her behalf, claiming the woman was consistently unmonitored. The parties agreed to settle for $990,000.
Pennsylvania, March 2013: An elderly woman’s family brought suit against her nursing home for negligence after she passed away from severe bed sores, dehydration and malnutrition. Plaintiffs claimed the facility failed to hire the appropriate number of staff necessary to care safely and humanely for the residents. Plaintiff’s wrongful death case also alleged the facility failed to even create an appropriate bed sore risk assessment. It resulted in a $2 million verdict.
A man, 55, had recently fractured his hip from a fall at home that resulted in hip surgery. He was hospitalized for two weeks and was then discharged for rehabilitation to a nursing home. The following week, he returned to the hospital for treatment of an infection at the location of the hip surgery incision. Unfortunately, he passed away from unrelated causes before he could file suit. His family sued, claiming that a special mattress and boots should have been in place to guard against such bed sores. Plaintiff’s counsel also alleged that the nurses not only failed to monitor his nutrition, but that they falsified the medical records to say that he did not have bed sores. This is the kind of stuff that makes jurors very mad, and you see that in this more than $10 million verdict.
A retired government employee, 79, had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and moved into Colonial Healthcare. During her stay, she fell and broke her hip. It was not until nine days after her fall that she was sent to the emergency room. There, a doctor diagnosed the fractured hip but also discovered a bed sore. She was required to undergo a left hip hemiarthroplasty but, unfortunately, passed away within the next month from an infected bed sore. The woman’s daughter sued Colonial Healthcare claiming that the nursing home staff failed to obtain treatment for her mother’s fractured hip and failed to prevent the terminal bed sore. Defendants denied that the bed sore occurred while at the nursing home. The jury apparently disagreed and reached a $29,100,000 verdict.