June 20, 2013 | Posted in:Nursing Home Litigation, Uncategorized

As a personal injury firm, we see a variety of cases, but some of the most severe are nursing home neglect and abuse cases. In a trucking accident, for instance, or in medical malpractice, the injury is immediate and obvious; our role is to prove who is at fault and hold them accountable. But in nursing home cases, the injury is often subtle, and may not be noticed until it is far too late to saved a loved one. It is up to family and friends to be vigilant and supportive of their elderly loved one, and to pursue a personal injury case if one is warranted. Often, the kind of facilities who neglect elders are only interested in the financial bottom line, and so a lawsuit serves two purposes- first, to procure the funds necessary to help your loved one recover from the neglect by paying for hospital and other medical bills, or, in the worst cases, to pay for final expenses (such and funeral and burial bills and the expenses of the last hospitalization), and secondly, to force the neglectful facility to realize that poor care has real financial repercussions for the bottom line of the nursing home.

A large part of uncovering elder care neglect and abuse is just being there for your loved one. Spending time with him or her serves multiple purposes- it reinforces the feeling that you can be trusted and confided in, so that your loved one is more willing and able to communicate if abuse or neglect is happening; if your loved one is unwilling or unable to tell you about abuse or neglect, your continued presence makes you more likely to notice any physical problems or changes in behavior; and your being there reduces the likelihood of abuse or neglect occurring at all, whether it is because you reduce the stress on the caregiver by helping out or cause them to be more attentive and vigilant because they’re aware of being observed. We had a case recently where the elder’s daughter, a former nurse who frequently visited her mother, noticed that the bed linens were not being changed often enough. Since her complaints didn’t result in any improvement, she began changing them herself whenever she was able to visit. However, in changing the sheets she discovered a horrific bedsore on her mother which would have been immediately obvious to anyone at the facility had they changed the linens, turned the mother (as was part of her prescribed daily routine), or done even the most basic physical exam. When the daughter insisted that the nurse in charge come to the room, the nurse was appalled- but had never even met the mother before in the several months of her residence at that facility. This is a perfect example of how nursing homes, in the process of cutting costs by minimizing staff and maximizing the number of paying residents, have ignored their original goal of providing quality care for the elderly in favor of a new goal: making more money.

The daughter, in that case, did exactly the right thing- she made herself available, she noticed a moderate problem (the sheets) and took care of it personally. Had she not done so- had she assumed that someone else would take care of it later- she would never have uncovered the bedsore and the far worse problem of neglect. The nursing home would not have been held accountable for her mother’s ultimate death from the sepsis caused by the untreated bedsore (also known as a pressure ulcer), and would have continued the same practices, unchecked, on the other elders in their care, many of whom would likely have shared the same fate. It is terribly important just to be present, and to observe carefully the conditions of your loved one. There are many forms of neglect and abuse, and while some are more obvious than others, there are nearly always warning signs. One resource for those with loved ones in elder care facilities is the helpguide.org website. It outlines the many signs and symptoms to watch for, and to which agencies you should report them. For instance, to use the previous example, bedsores should never occur, and federal laws provide that the occurrence of a pressure ulcer means negligence on the part of the nursing home has occurred (if a patient is turned every two hours a pressure ulcer or bedsore will not occur because the skin and underlying tissues receive adequate oxygen and blood flow).

There is a difference between being aware of your loved one’s condition, though, and being unreasonable. If you have a reason to be suspicious, ask your loved one if anything is wrong, and pay attention to behavior, emotions and any physical signs of trouble. But do be aware that the reasons for your loved one to be in a care facility in the first place can range from physical problems to emotional or behavioral issues. A good way to begin is by familiarizing yourself with what is normal for your loved one’s personality and health issues, if you haven’t already. Being needlessly critical or overbearing with the caregivers will not help anyone. However, as per the helpguide.org’s website, if warning signs begin to clump together, it may be time to investigate. If your loved one has had repeated falls, for example, or a history of bed sores- some of the most common problems occurring with neglect- ask to see the written protocols relating to those issues. Every care facility will have very specific written protocols for those problems, and you can check to see if they are adhering to them when you visit. For instance, an elder prone to falls may need to have bed rails installed, or matting on the floor next to the bed that helps prevent slipping, or pressure-sensitive alarms to warn the facility if the elder leaves his or her bed. For bed sores there will be a protocol for monitoring the skin for danger areas, turning the elder to relieve pressure, treating any sores that start, et cetera. These are just two examples, but by keeping abreast of what is happening, and what SHOULD be happening, you can help prevent, or notice in early, treatable stages, problems that could otherwise result in serious injury, illness, or even death.

We also strongly recommend that, if you know that neglect or abuse has occurred, you contact a reputable attorney immediately. An attorney experienced in nursing home cases will be familiar with the specific issues pertaining to elder care neglect and abuse, and will have long-standing relationships with highly-respected experts on those issues. This is key because often, time is of the essence. In many cases, anger or grief may obscure the fact that immediate action is necessary to obtain justice for your loved one and, we hope, a speedy recovery. Medical records must be obtained, photos must be taken for evidence, a verbal or written account of the abuse or neglect from the elder in question, if possible, must be obtained, and all of this is best done as quickly as possible, particularly if the mental or physical condition of your loved one is deteriorating. If the worst occurs, an autopsy is imperative. It is difficult to consider all of these things when you’re in the middle of difficult and emotionally charged situations, but we’re here to help. If we can be of assistance to you, even just to answer your questions, please feel free to call our office today, at 404-688-2000, or email us at marc@dzkl.com or ecornell@dzkl.com.