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Abuse at Understaffed and Underperforming Nursing Homes

Nursing home or long-term care facility negligence or abuse can often amount to a significant award of damages to a plaintiff. Such damages awards will often include nominal damages for the actual liability based on negligence or intentional abuse, as well as punitive damages that can punish the facility and make a statement as to how severe the abuse was against the plaintiff. A recent jury decision in Colorado demonstrates this where a plaintiff and his family were awarded $3.3 million in damages, comprising of $300,000 for the actual negligence, and $3 million in punitive damages against the facility. This case was the second in approximately one year that families suing the facility won an award of damages.

The Case Details
In 2013, the family of an 82 year old patient resident of a Colorado nursing home sued the facility alleging that over the course of his three years there, he suffered from many bed sores, skin tears and abrasions, infections (including from E. Coli as well as a urinary tract infection), and he was dehydrated and malnourished. He also significantly lost weight and at one point lost the ability to use his arms and legs. The complaint alleged that this was a result of the facility staff’s failure to give the level of care that the patient needed, particularly given a medical status that heightened his needs. The plaintiff suffered from mild retardation as well as dementia, among other problems. The staff failures to pay him enough attention and to do the very things they were hired to do to keep the plaintiff comfortable and as healthy as possible under the circumstances. The family also alleged violations of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act by the facility because it advertised itself as a top rate nursing home when it allegedly knew full well that it could not give the proper care and treatment to patients to keep them healthy and well.

Ensuring Adequate Staffing Levels
Understaffing at the nursing home was pointed to as a significant source of the inability to care for patient residents. Consistent with this, the facility experiences substantial turnover, including a 164% turnover rate of registered nurses in 2011 alone. Plaintiff’s attorneys also presented evidence that Department of Health and Human Services inspectors had found the facility did not meet standards with regard to nutrition and hygiene for disabled patients, and did not adequate prevent bed sores – all issues that the plaintiff dealt with during his stay there. The company that owns and manages the defendant facility in this case also manages 24 other facilities, and according to a news report, Medicare gave more than half of those facilities poor marks in annual health inspections.

The terrible abuse in Colorado is yet another example of how understaffed nursing homes with poor performance standards continue to allow harm to innocent residents. Federal and state inspectors have incredibly important jobs in ascertaining where these facilities are not compliant with requirements. Many nursing homes put profit over the care and well-being of residents by cutting corners, including with staff, yet billing out at significant rates.

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