Articles Posted in Nursing Home Abuse

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As discussed earlier this week, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is in a position to exert significant influence over quality of care at nursing homes. That is because most facilities depend on receiving payment from the CMS programs covering seniors without the means to pay for nursing home care on their own. For this reason, CMS has requirements, incentives, and programs aimed and getting facilities to provide better care to both improve senior lives and lower overall long-term care costs.

Minimizing Nursing Home Neglect

For example, last week CMS officials announced the start of a new program aimed at lowering avoidable hospitalizations of nursing home residents. When senior residents are abused or neglected, they often require hospitalization to treat the consequences of the mistreatment. It is not uncommon for those hospitalizations to drag on, as senior bodies are often frail–complications are common. Those hospitalizations are quite expensive. Minimizing readmissions to hospitals is therefore a key cost-containment effort.

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The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act protects the rights of residents in long term care facilities relating to privacy, freedom from neglect and abuse, and self-determination. Under the Act, a long term care facility is any place that provides personal care, sheltered care or nursing for three or more persons not related to the facility owner by blood or marriage. These facilities are required to comply with the Act and are responsible for preventing nursing home resident abuse and neglect.

Some of the major residents’ rights protected under the Act include:

• The right to wear your own clothing and have a safe, secure storage place for your personal property • The right to privacy of your bedroom space, including not sharing a room with someone of the opposite sex unless the person is your spouse • The right to choose your own doctor and make decisions about your medical care • The right to be free from restraint or confinement without consent • The right to communicate through phone and mail and receive visitors • The right to manage your own financial affairs • The right to be free from abuse and neglect • The right to discharge or transfer to a different facility at your request • All of your rights as a U.S. citizen, including freedom of speech, religion, and the right to vote
The Illinois Department of Public Health (“IDPH”) enforces the Act throughout Illinois. If a facility has violated any of your protected rights, your options include 1) filing a complaint with the Long-Term Care Ombudsman; 2) filing a complaint with the IDPH; or 3) consulting an Illinois nursing home abuse attorney about filing a private lawsuit. The Long-Term Care Ombudsman is required to investigate your complaint and can ask the facility to voluntarily comply with the Act’s requirements. If the facility fails to address the violation, the IDPH can investigate and impose fines and other penalties for any violation it finds, up to and including revoking the facility’s license to operate.

In addition to submitting a complaint to the Ombudsman or IDPH, you can also pursue a private nursing home lawsuit. The Chicago nursing home abuse attorneys at Levin & Perconti have handled hundreds of complex nursing home cases involving injuries arising out of Illinois Nursing Home Care Act violations. These cases include securing a record $2.9 million jury verdict against a suburban Homewood nursing home for the family of a deceased resident who suffocated due to the home’s negligent care of her tracheostomy tube.
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For many families, nursing home abuse is a topic that only arises in conversation after they discover that their loved one has fallen victim to its insidious occurrence. The process of sending an elderly relative to one of these facilities is typically a tough decision but one made with the specific purpose of ensuring that their relative is healthy and safe. Unfortunately, when nursing home neglect occurs, the opposite is true-the facility itself causes the health consequences.

Lawyers and Settlements recently provided some context to the scope of the nursing home abuse problem. Specifically, the Illinois Department of Aging reports that most victims of elder abuse are subjected to more than one type including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; confinement, financial exploitation, neglect, and willful deprivation. The most common form of abuse allegations involves financial exploitation, constituting 58% of all elder abuse claims. This is likely true because it is the one form of elder abuse that most directly benefits the abuser.

Each of those neglectful actions constitutes violations of the basic care guaranteed to residents under the law. The victim and their family may have a legal case against the facility when any of these occur, often irrespective of the intent of the abusers.

In nursing homes, the perpetrators of the abuse are varied, from nurses and administrators to aides and other residents. No matter who is the direct cause of the conduct, however, it is often difficult for a resident to find justice. In many cases embarrassment and shame prevent seniors from coming forward with information about the problem. For others, they may not be able to physically or mentally do anything to stop the misconduct or report it.
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Over the past several months on this blog we closely followed the nursing home lawsuit against Skilled Healthcare. We reported on the mammoth $677 million verdict against the conglomerate following their years of inadequate staffing and care. That award was then converted into a $63 million settlement before the appeal on the original verdict was heard. In addition, the 22 nursing homes managed by Skilled Healthcare were required to abide by the nursing staffing requirement in the future. 42,000 other patients were all part of the nursing home lawsuit against Skilled Healthcare which failed to provided the 3.2 nursing hours per patient per day as required by state law.

Yesterday the Contra Costa Times talked with residents and nurses involved in the suit to get a different perspective on the suit, including information about the lives affected by the poor care given to the vulnerable seniors at the facilities. For example, one 71-year old widow found herself at one of the facilities living in what she described as a living hell because of the chronic understaffing and poor treatment provided by the facility.

Another resident explained how the lack of sufficient nursing employees made it difficult to get even the most basic assistance. When she needed to use the bathroom she pressed a button on the side of her bed. But the nurses were always later and later to arrive. She explains, “I went through hell every night just trying to get a bedpan. If you don’t hold it, well there goes your dignity.”
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Nursing homes are charged with providing complete care to vulnerable elderly residents. That means that nursing home employees must provide physical care (like helping residents get in and out of bed) as well as medical care. While advanced medical care requires the expertise of hospital professionals, nursing home staff members often still perform more routine tasks, like controlling resident medications.

Severe harm and even death often results when the employees are negligent when administering patient drugs.

That is exactly what happened according to a new nursing home lawsuit filed against the Woodland Care Center according to About Lawsuits. The wrongful death suit stems from the death of a resident at the facility caused by an overdose of a pain patch known as fentanyl. The medication was intended to handle the resident’s pain during his recovery from bone cancer. The fentanyl gel in question is 100 times stronger than morphine.

The medication is administered through a patch that is supposed to be applied once every three days. However, the nursing home staff caregiver failed to follow that directive. Instead three pain patches where used on the resident’s neck at once. As a result of the medication error the victim suffered cardiac arrest. He was found on the floor of his nursing home room and transferred to a local hospital where he died six days later.
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WKBT News recently discussed the latest lawsuit filed following a string of abusive conduct at the Evangelical Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea nursing home. This is the 7th lawsuit filed which charged the nursing home with failure to properly monitor its employees, leading to abusive behavior by several nursing home assistants.

An investigation in May of 2008 revealed the abuse carried out against dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. One of the abusers has already been sentenced to three months in jail while another is awaiting sentencing.

The abuse was carried out unabated over the course of four to six months. It included sexual groping of the residents and repeated physical beatings. The teenage assistants also went so far as telling one particular resident that the facility was actually a prison in an attempt to confuse and torment the mentally impaired elderly victim.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients are often particularly susceptible to physical and sexual abuse because of their impaired mental awareness. Their vulnerability makes it vitally important that all employees working with these residents are screened to ensure they have no ill motives. It is unacceptable for a single facility to have created a culture in which several assistant felt free to commit these repeated examples of elder abuse. Administrators must ensure that employees are properly trained and closely monitored so that that no abuse or neglect occurs. Their failure to do so can have devastating effects.
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The Orchard Court Nursing Home in Jonesboro, Illinois was ordered closed recently by Illinois health department officials. WSIL News reported on the closing which will send 15 residents to new facilities in the area.

The nursing home will have 90 days to surrender its license, pay $12,000 in fines, and move its residents to other accommodations. These actions were required following a new report by the Illinois Department of Public Health which documented numerous failures at the facility in resident protection and safety. Specifically, the facility was found to have allowed certain residents to abuse other residents. One resident at Orchard Court, an 18 year old man, physically abused several others at the facility, including one attack that sent a 62 year old blind resident to the hospital.

The facility was attempting to be ac care facility for severely disabled residents who had been turned away from other nursing home. Management at the facility claim that the business simply did not have the funding to properly ensure that facility complied with all state laws. The facility was unable to properly maintain an individualized care plan to ensure the safety of each resident.

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Cynthia Wims entered the Willows Nursing & Rehabilitation Center for what was supposed to be a brief recovery period following elective hip replacement surgery. Unfortunately, she would never leave the facility alive. The Cap Times recently published a detailed story on Cythnia’s struggle.

Cynthia’s health seemed to deteriorate each day that she was at the facility. Her surgical wound never improved as expected, and she instead developed a staph infection. Staph infections are rarely life threatening, and doctors are usually able to treat it without too many complications. However, Cynthia never got treatment, because not one of the rehabilitation employees at the facility took any steps to take care of the medical problem. A doctor was never called, her wounds were never treated, and Cynthia’s husband was forced to take her clothes home to wash every day because drainage from the wound soiled them.

Less than a month and a half after arriving at the negligent nursing home, Cynthia died. She left behind a husband of fifty years, several children, and many grandchildren. Cynthia’s husband filed a nursing home lawsuit following her death, and recently settled the case for over $2.25 million. The settlement was reached with the large nursing conglomerate that owned the facility.

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The Montgomery County Courier published a story yesterday on the tragic death of a beloved community member. Attorney Don Brown had devoted his life to helping his less fortunate neighbors. As a criminal defense attorney he volunteered hundreds and hundreds of hours helping those who couldn’t afford legal services. In one high-profile case, Brown helped saved the life of an innocent man who was sent to death row.

Don Brown was always ready to help those who were vulnerable around him. Unfortunately, he was not afforded the same care when he entered a nursing home following several heart problems. He entered the Willis Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in mid-August because he needed close care following complications from congestive heart failure and a broken hip. He assumed that the facility would provide the optimal location to recovery following a surgery. The nursing home offered long-term acute rehabilitation and skilled nursing care.

But Don did not receive the care to which he was entitled. Virtually as soon as he arrived, staff members put him on a medication regime that was far stronger than necessary. He received anti-psychotic drugs and large doses of Vicodin. As a result, Don had trouble eating and eventually suffered from kidney failure. Besides the overmedication, employees failed to treat his infections and bedsores. The mistreatment was so severe that part of Don’s tailbone was protruding from his skin.

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The Chatham Daily News published a story last week about the problems of elder abuse. An educational workshop was recently in the area held which sparked discussion about the ways in which seniors are exploited, neglected, and abused.

One speaker, legal scholar Robert Solomon, explained that many protections are in place to help vulnerable seniors but they are not well known. He emphasized that the law does protect at-risk elderly community members in all sorts of situations, from exploitation by predatory salesmen to neglect by nursing home staff members. Yet, all too often these seniors and their families are unaware of the legal options that they have to fight the abuse.

To help combat the problem, the professor suggested expanding public bodies that work to investigate allegations of abuse. Also, the agencies charged with the task need to develop better “user-friendly” processes that are less intimidating to the average person.