Bed sores (also known as pressure sores or pressure ulcers) are considered one of the “warning signs” of nursing home abuse and, in particular, nursing home neglect. Nursing home abuse and neglect are becoming a major national issue in part because approximately 1.3 million people live in nursing homes in the U.S. as of 2010 (census data here). Furthermore, the CDC estimates that, currently, 1 in 10 people living in nursing homes has a bed sore. Studies also suggest that people living in nursing homes are more likely to have bedsores today than 10 years ago.
As has been noted previously on this blog, bed sores are serious injuries that can become life-threatening if not treated in a responsible and timely manner. Bed sores are categorized into four stages as they develop and become more dangerous (see a helpful WebMD Bed Sore summary here). Unfortunately, the first two stages may be hard to notice for an untrained eye because the injuries appear as raw, reddened skin (Stage 1) and then a blister (Stage 2). By the time the bed sores have become very noticeable by later Stage 2 or Stage 3, the damage to the body may extend all the way through the layers of the skin into the tissue below. To make matters worse, once someone has bed sores even the best care often requires slow treatment throughout which the patient suffers from pain and discomfort.
For those of us who know or have loved ones living in nursing homes, we expect excellent care from the staff and reasonable comfort for the residents. We certainly expect the staff to treat any injury, like a bed sore, as quickly and effectively as possible. However, the reason bed sores are considered a “warning sign” for nursing home abuse and neglect is not merely because of the sore itself but why it appeared in the first place. The occurrence of bed sores is much more likely in individuals who are dehydrated, malnourished, and left in a bed or wheelchair for very long periods of time without being cared for. The best treatment for bed sores is prevention- and preventative measures fall precisely within the standard of care we expect from nursing homes.