Articles Posted in Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect

A particularly disturbing story came out of Winston Salem, North Carolina last month.  Three North Carolina assisted living employees were arrested for encouraging patients to get into fights for their own entertainment, according to a report from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

North Carolina authorities were able to obtain at least one video of the fights taken by the employees after it was shared on social media, which showed “one resident being strangled with her face turning red.”  The report says staff members can be heard on video saying, “Punch her in the face.”  A staff member can also be heard saying, “Are you recording? You gonna send it to me?”

The three employees, Marilyn Latish McKey, 32, Tonacia Yvonne Tyson, 20, and Taneshia Deshawn Jordan, 26, were all arrested and charged with assault on an individual with a disability.  After their arrests, the employees told authorities that they let the fight happen because one of the residents “always caused problems.”

 

NH-wheelchairA recent study, conducted jointly by Harvard and Vanderbilt medical schools, found understaffing in 75 percent of nursing facilities across the United States.  The study published in the Journal of Health Affairs, obtained data from the Payroll Based Journal (PBJ) to analyze the staffing levels of more than 15,000 nursing homes. The researchers examined the staffing levels of registered nurses (RN), licensed practical nurses (LPN), and nurse aides, relative to the number of nursing home residents they were caring for.  One of the more alarming findings from the study was that 75 percent of nursing homes were rarely in compliance with what the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services expected their staffing level to be, based on the needs of their residents. Additionally, the researchers found that 70 percent of facilities self-reported false numbers to reflect a higher total of nursing home staff.

In the United States, an estimated 1.5 million individuals receive care from nursing homes each day. Many of these individuals are living with serious physical and cognitive impairments, leaving them frail and vulnerable in a facility without sufficient staffing to meet their needs.  When nursing homes are understaffed, nurses scramble to deliver meals, assist bedbound residents to the bathroom and answer calls for pain medication. Essential medical tasks such as repositioning a patient to prevent bedsores, or responding to a bed alarm, can go overlooked when a nursing home doesn’t have sufficient staffing, many times leading to tragic consequences.

The Suthers Law Firm has been fighting for victims of abuse and neglect in nursing homes for nearly three decades. The attorneys at Suthers Law Firm have seen time and time again the tragic results that can come about as a direct result of nursing homes not having enough to staff to properly care for its residents.  If you suspect or know of neglect or abuse of a loved one inside a nursing home, contact the experienced nursing home attorneys at Suthers Law Firm. Our attorneys have the knowledge and resources required to hold nursing homes accountable. Contact us now online or toll-free at 1-800-320-2384 for a free consultation.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General, released a report this month, which concluded that many incidents of abuse and neglect at nursing homes are not always reported or investigated.  The Inspector General determined that almost one out of five incidents in which a Medicare beneficiary was taken from a nursing home to a hospital emergency room was the result of abuse or neglect.  The study found that skilled nursing facilities failed to report a large number of these incidents to the appropriate government agencies in accordance with applicable federal regulations.  It was estimated that in 2016, approximately 6,600 cases of potential abuse and neglect went unreported.

The report cited a case involving a 65 year old nursing home resident, who was taken to the emergency room in critical condition.  She was having difficulty breathing, her kidneys were failing, and she was delirious.  The lab results done at the hospital showed that she was suffering from opioid poisoning, because of a serious error that had occurred at the nursing home.  One of the nurses at the nursing home had mistakenly copied a doctor’s orders.  As a result, the nursing home resident received much larger doses of pain medication than had been prescribed, causing opioid poisoning.  The resident was treated and released back to the nursing home. The nurse who had made the mistake received some training, but the nursing home never reported the incident.  The Inspector General cited this case as a clear example of negligence that should have been reported to the government.

Suthers Law Firm in Savannah, Georgia was one of the first firms in the nation to sue a nursing home for abuse and neglect, and obtain a successful jury verdict.  The firm’s founder and managing partner, John Suthers, said, “The results of this study are not surprising.  Incidents of abuse and neglect of elderly nursing home residents can be difficult to uncover for many reasons.  Sometimes, the victims may be afraid or unable to tell family members out of fear of retaliation by the nursing home.  In other cases, the evidence of abuse or neglect can be masked by the resident’s other medical problems.  Sadly, there are residents who do not have family members regularly checking on them and as a result, incidents of abuse or neglect go unnoticed and unreported.”  Mr. Suthers encourages family members of nursing home residents to visit the nursing home frequently and at different times during the day.  Doing so makes it more difficult for the nurses and staff to predict when a family member may drop by the nursing home.  As a result, they may be more diligent in caring for that family’s loved one.

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Earlier this month, a nursing home resident who had been in a vegetative state for eleven years gave birth inside Hacienda HealthCare, a nursing home in Phoenix, Arizona.  Caregivers at the nursing home have told investigators they were shocked and had no idea the resident was pregnant.  A frantic 911 call on December 29, 2018 by a nurse at the facility reported that a 29-year-old woman had given birth inside the facility. The nursing home staff tasked with providing care for the woman said they were unaware that she was pregnant until she started to moan right before giving birth on Dec. 29.   When police arrived, they found a baby that had been born to a woman who was “unable to move and unable to communicate.”  The nursing home specializes in the care of people with intellectual disabilities.  Court records show that the woman had been a resident of Hacienda HealthCare since 1992.

Phoenix police have already executed a search warrant seeking DNA samples from male staff members at the Hacienda HealthCare center.  The Arizona Department of Health Services and the state’s Department of Economic Security are also working with police in the investigation.  Sgt. Tommy Thompson of the Phoenix Police Department stated that the patient “…. was not in a position to give consent to any of this. This was a helpless victim who was sexually assaulted.”

Shortly after the assault, Hacienda HealthCare announced that it had hired former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley to additionally conduct an “exhaustive” internal review.  “Mr. Romley will have unfettered access to every facet of Hacienda’s business — including all the records related to this matter,” said a statement from Hacienda. “We will do everything we can to aid this review and, once it is complete, to make sure this unprecedented situation never, ever happens again.”

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Nursing home facilities in Georgia, and around the country, are evaluated on a routine basis by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), as well as state agencies that regulate nursing homes. The purpose of the evaluations is to determine whether nursing homes are ensuring resident safety by complying with federal and state nursing-home care regulations. Nursing homes may only participate in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement programs when they are abiding by these regulations. When facilities perform poorly, they are closely watched by CMS. Those facilities that receive the worst evaluations and provide the poorest care to their residents are known as “Special Focus Facilities.” These nursing homes receive special attention from regulators and must show improvement in their quality of care or they will lose their Medicare and Medicaid funding. If you or a loved one require nursing home care, you should know which nursing homes are considered to be among the worst in the country.  The most recent special focus facilities list is available here.

Currently, there are only a couple of Georgia nursing home facilities on the current list, including Pleasant View Nursing Center in Metter, and Chulio Hills Health and Rehab in Rome.  They are both shown on the list as “facilities that have shown improvement” since first being named a special focus facility.

If you have a loved one staying at a nursing home that is a Special Focus Facility, or you are thinking of sending your loved one to one of these facilities, there are several things you may want to do to help ensure his or her safety and well-being:

NBC News reported this week on the number of nursing home patients who are transferred to hospitals and subsequently die from sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection.  Sepsis often occurs when an infection is untreated or treated inadequately.  Sepsis occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight the infection cause inflammation throughout the entire body instead.  Severe cases of sepsis can lead to septic shock, which is characterized by very low blood pressure, and is a medical emergency.

A private healthcare data firm, Definitive Healthcare, conducted a special analysis of data related to nursing home patients who were transferred to hospitals and later died.  The analysis revealed that approximately 25,000 patients a year had developed sepsis while in nursing homes across the U.S.  Definitive Healthcare looked at Medicare billings from 2012 through 2016, and concluded that the treatment of this life-threatening condition costs Medicare more than $2 Billion a year.   These numbers show that sepsis is a huge public health problem in the U.S.

Sometimes, a nursing home patient can develop a pressure sore on the hip or tailbone.  If that patient is incontinent, there is an increased risk that the pressure sore will become infected.  The longer the infected pressure sore goes untreated, or inadequately treated, the greater the risk of the patient developing sepsis.  If the sepsis is not treated promptly and aggressively, the patient can go into septic shock, and die.  Nursing home patients, who often have other comorbidities and conditions, have an increasingly difficult time surviving sepsis.  It is not just pressure sores that can lead to sepsis in nursing home patients.  Sepsis can develop in bedridden patients who are suffering from pneumonia, urinary tract infections, or other infections.  What can start out as a relatively small, isolated infection can quickly become a big infection and cause the death of a nursing home patient.

The Beaufort County South Carolina Sheriff’s Office has reported that a resident of a nursing home on Hilton Head Island was sexually assaulted by an employee of the nursing facility.  The assault took place at Life Care Center of Hilton Head, located at 120 Lamotte Drive.

Beaufort County Investigators were called to Life Care Center of Hilton Head on the afternoon of Wednesday May 2, 2018, in reference to an assault that had taken place the previous night.  According to the Sheriff’s report, a nurse said she went to a patient’s room around 1:15 p.m. Wednesday and found her “upset and crying.”  When she asked what was wrong, the patient told the nurse that she had been sexually assaulted.

Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Capt. Bob Bromage said a suspect in the assault had been identified as a nursing home employee, and that person is now on suspension from his position at Life Care Center of Hilton Head.  Because the investigation is ongoing, very few details have been released to the public about the assault that took place inside Life Care Center of Hilton Head.

Nursing-Home-Evacuation-300x169As anyone who lives in the coastal area of the southern United States knows, we have dealt with several major hurricane evacuations over the last couple of years that have forced residents out of their homes.  While these evacuations can be an ordeal for anyone, it is especially challenging to evacuate those vulnerable citizens who are residents of nursing homes and other assisted living facilities.  Though with proper planning, nursing homes can and should have a plan that protects their residents in the event of a mandatory hurricane evacuation.

Sadly, we saw a lack of preparation by nursing homes time and time again during the coverage of the major hurricanes of 2017.  For instance, ten elderly nursing home residents in Hollywood, Florida died after being kept inside a facility that essentially turned into an oven when Hurricane Irma knocked out the facility’s air conditioning for three days.  These residents were left inside the building, despite the fact there was a hospital with working electricity just across the street.

There were also horrifying images out of Texas during Hurricane Harvey that showed nursing home residents sitting in several feet of unsanitary flood water.  Luckily in the Texas case, the residents ultimately had a (somewhat) happy ending, as all 18 of those affected by the flood water were airlifted from the flooded La Vita Bella assisted living facility in Dickinson, Texas, and subsequently relocated to other facilities across the state.  However, these residents should have never had to go through such a traumatic experience.

All of us have been taught the importance of being personally responsible and accountable for our actions. This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on Bills that will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for citizens harmed by the wrongdoing of others to seek justice in our nation’s courts. Congress is proposing legislation that will make lawsuits brought by injured patients, nursing home residents, and their families nearly impossible to pursue. This so-called “Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017” (Bill H.R. 1215) will rig the system against individuals and tip the scales in favor of doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and their insurance companies. These bills seek to prevent medical care providers who commit negligence from being held accountable for the injuries and damages they cause. Instead of protecting our most vulnerable citizens, such as nursing home residents, Congress is attempting to enact laws that will benefit only the corporations that run nursing homes and the companies that insure them.

Unfortunately, certain politicians, who are supported in large part by corporations and insurance companies, are proposing these laws that are designed to destroy your right to hold wrongdoers accountable for their negligent acts and omissions.  If passed, the Bills proposed will radically change existing laws and radically limit citizens’ access to courts.  The proposed Bills include the following:

  1. A law designed to protect doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, and medical device manufacturers by limiting compensation for injuries caused by their negligence to $250,000, regardless of how egregious their conduct was or how much the injury has devastated a victim’s life.

Our firm has been suing nursing homes since the 1990s.  In fact, Suthers Law Firm was one of the first firms in the United States to obtain a successful jury verdict against a nursing home for neglecting and abusing a resident.  When we first started accepting these cases in the 1990s, the two most common types of injuries that we saw recurring in nursing homes were pressure sores and fall-related injuries. Regrettably, 20 years later, these are still the two most common injuries we see in the nursing home setting.  Fall-related injuries significantly impact the lives of residents and their families.  Some of the more significant, life-altering injuries resulting from falls in nursing homes include hip fractures and subdural hematomas (brain bleeds).  When a resident falls in a nursing home and suffers a serious injury, it often causes, or contributes to the cause, of impairment, disability, and a decrease in enjoyment of life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has studied the impact of falls on elderly individuals.  As many as 75% of elderly individuals who reside in nursing homes sustain at least one fall yearly.  That is twice as much as the number of falls among older individuals living at home or within the community at large.  According to the CDC, as many as 20% of the falls that occur in nursing homes result in a serious injury.

In examining why falls occur in nursing homes, one must look at the patients’ risk factors as well as environmental factors.  Often, residents of nursing homes have medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, impairment from a prior stroke, diabetic neuropathy, and visual impairment, which can affect their balance and ability to walk.  Residents may also have conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, that can affect their judgment.  These conditions place the residents at an increased risk of falling.  It is the nursing home’s duty to recognize these risk factors and take steps to prevent falls or lessen the risk of falls and fall-related injuries.  Nursing homes also have a duty to address any environmental hazards, such as clutter in the hallways, inadequate lighting, slippery floor surfaces, and lack of adequate safety equipment in rooms and bathrooms, in an effort to prevent falls.