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Infections in Nursing Homes Increasing

A recent study by the Columbia University School of Nursing reported that the rate of infections in nursing homes is increasing. Regrettably, the trend will likely continue unless and until better care and hygiene practices are implemented.

The author of the study, Carolyn Herzig, stated, “Infections are a leading cause of deaths and complications for nursing home residents…We found a significant increase in infection rates across the board.” Data submitted by nursing homes to the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) between 2006 and 2010 was analyzed by the author and her team. The data revealed increasing rates of urinary tract infections, pneumonia, wound infections, and septicemia, also known as blood poisoning. Septicemia is a serious, life-threatening infection that can worsen quickly. It arises from other infections throughout the body, often when such infections are either untreated, improperly treated, or treated too late. The Columbia University study also found increased rates of drug-resistant bacterial infections like methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA. Of the above-referenced infections, urinary tract infections and pneumonia were the most common in nursing homes.

One of the more common types of cases that we see in our nursing home litigation practice are decubitus ulcer (pressure sore) cases. These wounds develop when the nursing home staff fails to turn and reposition a resident to relive pressure on a bony area, such as the sacrum, hips or heels. When a pressure sore occurs in the sacral area, it often becomes infected, especially if the nursing home resident is incontinent of bowel or bladder. If the wound infection is untreated or treated too late, the resident can develop septicemia (sepsis), which can, in turn, lead to death. That is why early intervention, proper treatment and proper hygiene practices are so important.

There are a number of steps that can and should be taken in an effort to reduce a nursing home resident’s risk of infection. Nursing homes can reduce the risk of a resident developing urinary tract infections by reducing the use of urinary catheters. Rather than using a catheter, they can establish a toileting schedule to increase the number of assisted trips to the toilet by a resident who requires assistance with toileting. Another simple step that would reduce the risk of both urinary tract and wound infections is to increase the diaper changes for residents who are incontinent. We often hear complaints from family members of residents about the resident remaining in soiled or wet diapers for hours at a time before a staff member comes to the room to change the diaper. When this type of neglect occurs, the family should not hesitate to report their concerns to the Director of Nursing and Administrator at the nursing home.
Proper hand hygiene is another simple step that would help prevent infections that can be spread through the air or through contact with contaminated surfaces. Hand sanitizer dispensers and hand-washing stations should be readily available throughout the nursing home. If you don’t see these when visiting a nursing home, it may be an indication that the nursing home lacks adequate hygiene and infection control programs.