A lawsuit has been brought against a nursing home for negligent treatment of a patient that is claimed to have contributed to her death just one month later. The family of an 84 year old patient at this upstate facility has filed a complaint seeking $2 million in damages for this woman’s death, including payback for medical expenses as well as funeral expenses.
According to the local Times-Union, the patient resident allegedly punched a nursing aide in the face. The patient suffered from dementia, which was a principal reason for her residing at the facility. In response to this punch, the nursing aid allegedly bent the resident’s arm behind her back, resulting in breaking that arm. A New York State Health Department report on the incident stated that the nursing aide smacked the patient in the face with her own incontinence brief. As if to add insult to injury, the nursing aide was required to continue to stay with the resident for the next several hours because apparently there was no one available to take over. It is not clear whether this was a result of understaffing or if management simply did not actively try to reassign someone else to cover the resident. This, too, may have demonstrated a negligence in leaving a person who allegedly abused a patient, in spite of what that patient may have done, still in charge of that patient. As the article reports, two other nursing supervisors allegedly ignored the patient for 12 hours in spite of her pleas for assistance. Only later was she taken to a hospital.
Not to be lost in the cloud of this civil case is the criminal aspect. The nursing aide accused of hitting and breaking the resident’s arm was prosecuted by the New York State Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. The nursing aide pled guilty earlier in the year to “one felony count of endangering the welfare of a vulnerably elderly person.” She spent 30 days in Albany County jail as a part of this plea. And, of course, she lost her assistant nursing credentials.
Almost a full month after the broken arm and other abuse and significant neglect, the patient passed away. While there are no official records to directly tie the broken arm to her death, her family believes that the two are very much connected. The official cause of death was stated to be a pulmonary embolism as a result of a blood clot in her lung. The family’s attorney has stated that after the incident, the patient’s behavior changed in that she acted out and no longer ate regularly, and that these changes contributed to her overall decline, as opposed to recovery from the injuries.
This case presents another example of the poor treatment suffered by patients, including the elderly, at nursing homes across the country. This also shows an incident where it is entirely unclear whether the victim’s eventual death stemmed from the mistreatment, abuse or negligence. Such a question is a difficult one for attorneys to argue and for a jury to decide, and that decision will significantly impact any finding of liability and the amount of a damages award. It is also notable that this incident occurred in New York, where the state Attorney General has stepped up efforts to root out negligence and abuse at nursing homes.
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