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Disability Rights California (DRC) released a January report entitled Keep Nursing Home Residents Safe, in which the government-endorsed protection agency highlighted the inconsistencies in citations for actions deemed to be in violation of the Nursing Home Care Act. The report also focused on the negligible fines associated with such violations.

How are Violations and Fines Issued?

Citations in most states are handed out by a state department of public health. In California, the CA Department of Public Health & Certification Division is responsible for assigning violations and their associated fines to nursing homes. Each state upholds their own grading system for violations and is also required to maintain a publicly available record of every violation and fine levied upon a nursing home or care facility. In California, a Class AA fine is considered the most severe and carries a maximum $25,000 fine, a slap on the wrist considering many nursing homes are run by profitable corporations.

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The family of a man who died from sepsis and respiratory failure is suing Madison Health & Rehabilitation Center in Richmond, Kentucky for failing to correct and prevent pressure ulcers that led to his death.

Donald Shelton was admitted to Madison Health & Rehab with a foot wound and a pressure ulcer on his buttock and was expected to receive care to heal his injuries. Instead, the facility did not bathe Mr. Shelton in the 8 days he was a resident and failed to put together a care plan that outlined a course of treatment. In a span of just over a week, Mr. Shelton developed two additional bedsores and tissue death in his genital area that resulted in necrosis. As a result of the existing sores and newly developed ulcers, Mr. Shelton’s body and organs were overwhelmed by a serious infection known as sepsis. He died exactly 8 days after being admitted to Madison Health & Rehabilitation.

Pressure Ulcers – A Preventable Injury and Death

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The family of an elderly couple who died within 2 months of each other at a Eugene, Oregon nursing home has sued the facility, citing wrongful death as a result of the alleged incompetent and negligent care the couple received while living at the home.

Harvey and Maxine Hanson, 92 and 91 at the time of their deaths, were admitted to Avamere Riverpark of Eugene in March 2014. Both patients were classified as a high fall risk and despite Mr. Hanson’s doctor’s advice for physical therapy, Mr. Hanson managed to fall 13 times in the mere 8 months he resided at Avamere, never receiving the recommended therapies to reduce his risk. Mrs. Hanson fell at least 4 times while a resident.

Falls Just One of Many Disturbing Claims

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The family of a Pennsylvania man with Bipolar Disorder and Parkinson’s Disease has sued the nursing home where he resided after he died from injuries sustained while smoking at their facility. Kenneth Rodarmel, 73, suffered serious burns while smoking in February 2016 and died less than a month later in a nearby medical center.

The lawsuit alleges that the nursing home, Fair Acres Geriatric Center in Lima, Pennsylvania, neglected to allocate a safe space for residents to smoke, as well as to properly supervise those who had been deemed in need of oversight while smoking. Mr. Rodarmel also endured accidental cigarette burns in 2014 and was transitioned from unsupervised smoking status to supervised.

Lack of Supervision a Continuing Problem at Fair Acres & Nursing Homes Across the Country

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A new trend has emerged in several states including Pennsylvania & New Mexico: Attorneys General partnering with private law firms to sue large nursing home chains for negligent care, Medicare/Medicaid fraud, and deceptive marketing tactics. An article in a December edition of Reading Eagle, a Reading, PA newspaper, puts a spotlight on this growing movement to improve the quality of care received at nursing homes in all states. In Pennsylvania alone, Attorney General Bruce Beemer has filed 3 lawsuits (one of which has since settled) against 3 of Pennsylvania’s largest nursing home chains in the past year and a half. The case versus Reliant Senior Care (now Priority Healthcare Group) settled for a reported $2 million and was the largest nursing home settlement in PA won by an attorney general. The other two chains who are still locked in a legal battle against the state are Golden Living Centers and Grane Health Care.

Sending a Message

Nursing home industry advocates are obviously unnerved by partnerships between attorneys general and private law practices who have a history of success in helping right the injustices caused by big business on the American people. While these advocates argue that private law firms are giving donations to campaigns for attorneys general to essentially guarantee they’ll be called upon for future work, the law does not seem to be on their side. The State of Pennsylvania was unsuccessfully sued by the nursing home industry for such practices.  Elderly advocates believe working relationships between public and private legal entities will send a message to the industry that American taxpayers expect more from facilities receiving Medicare & Medicaid tax dollars.

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A Hinton, West Virginia nursing home is being sued over the death of a 77 year old who sustained unidentified injuries while she being cared for at their facility. Emma Petrey was a resident of Summer Nursing & Rehabilitation Center for nearly 3 years before she died in October 2014 from alleged improper care at the hands of the facility.

The lawsuit alleges that the facility and its operators failed to provide safe living conditions and adequate care, thus resulting in Ms. Petrey’s life-ending injuries.

Any sign of injury incurred while being cared for at nursing home or care facility can be an indication of abuse, improper care, inadequate training of staff, or lack of supervision. If you or a loved one has suffered injuries while residing in a nursing home, the elder abuse attorneys at Levin & Perconti can help you determine if you may have reason to pursue legal action.

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A Casper, Wyoming nursing home with a history of negligent care, cost-centered staffing practices, and hazardous living conditions just settled a lawsuit with a blind resident who was hit by a facility-owned, staff-driven minivan while waiting for a ride. Although the man survived the accident, he now deals with pain and numbness from an incident that could have been prevented by greater supervision and improved employee training.

Repeat Offender

Between January 2014 and 2016, Poplar Living Center was cited 90 times by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for a multitude of violations, some so egregious that they twice lost federal funding. Most of the complaints made by CMS against Poplar Living Center are common themes heard about many nursing facilities: Not enough staff to handle high resident volumes, inadequate staff training, rundown infrastructure, and negligent care.

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A bit of good news came in September, when the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), shared their latest updates to regulations surrounding the Nursing Home Reform Law, which governs the health & safety standards for all long term care (LTC) facilities receiving funding from Medicare and/or Medicaid.

The common theme among the newly introduced regulations is person-centered care for those residing in (or representing those residing) in an LTC. CMS describes these changes as allowing residents to be more in control of their care and discharge planning. Justice in Aging recently released a fact sheet highlighting the new provisions.

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In November 2015, 76 year old Hilda Cornelius died from an avoidable wound and leg amputation caused by staff negligence at a care facility in Woodway, Texas.  Cornelius was admitted to Regent Care Center of Woodway for a fractured fibula with a modest care plan that would enable her to go home after being treated. Unfortunately, Hilda Cornelius was never able to return home to her loved ones.

After admission, a physician noticed a wound from an immobilizer device on her leg. Wounds from devices such as the one worn by Hilda Cornelius are easily preventable and treatable with proper care from nursing home staff. In less than two weeks, the wound on Ms. Cornelius’ leg progressed into a 10 cm by 3 cm sore that was so deep, her tendons were visible.  The only choice to save Ms. Cornelius was to perform an above-the-knee amputation on January 27, 2016. Within 3 weeks, Ms. Cornelius had passed away from complications related to the wound and amputation.

In a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Hilda Cornelius, the family alleges that staff at Regent Care Center failed to care for her by allowing a preventable injury to occur and to advance into a wound so severe that amputation was the only option.

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In a move that endangers all nursing home residents, a Mississippi federal judge blocked a rule in December that would have made arbitration agreements illegal as a requirement for nursing home admission.

Arbitration agreements strip the elderly of their rights by removing their ability to file a lawsuit that can be pursued through the U.S. court system. Instead, a third party (or parties) serves as the decision maker, hearing evidence from both sides and then rendering a decision.  Arbitration is favored by nursing homes because they believe it costs less than lawsuits, which could eventually force expenses so high that they would have to close. The experienced  attorneys at Levin & Perconti believe that arbitration is a way for nursing homes to avoid full accountability for potentially negligent care of your loved ones. If you or a family member is facing the critical decision of residing in a nursing home, we urge you to not sign an agreement requiring arbitration in any instance.