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Nursing Home Neglect & Medical Malpractice

Is there a difference between a skilled nursing facility and an assisted living facility? Yes. Skilled nursing facilities, usually referred to as nursing homes, provide the most comprehensive medical support that a senior can receive outside of a hosptial. They are staffed by nurses, nursing assistants, and have doctors available. On the other hand, assisted living facilities have less professional medical support. Instead, they are usually staffed by assstants who provide non-medical aid, like helping with travel, making meals, and other day-to-day chores. All of this means that skilled nursing facilities are where those with more vulnerabilities and medical needs go, while seniors who are more capable of living on their own but prefer to have some extra security are best suited for assisted living facilities.

These differences sometimes have an effect on some legal details in the event of mistreatment and injury. In particular, the situations that give rise to suits claiming mistreatment at a traditional nursing home (skilled nursing facility) may be both traditional negligence as well as medical malpractice. Conversely, professional malpractice is unlikely to be present in any assisted living facility accident, because actual professional care is not provided.

The somewhat confusing intersection of medical malpractice and neglect in nursing homes was recently evidenced in a case reported by Fox 5. The investigative report found serious instances of neglect accusations at a skilled nursing facility. State health officials noted the the facility may have been responsible for the death of a resident due to poor medical care. They also point to past instances of negligent treatment which indicates that all residents of the home might be at risk of harm if standards are not raised.

One man’s story was highlighted. The resident entered the facility for what was supposed to be a rehabilitative stint. Sadly, as happens with many others in this situation, that rehab turned into a prolonged stay when his health did not improve as expected. He had a very small bedsore when he was sent to the faility. However, medical records show that it was small and healing. The nursing home caregivers were supposed to continue with the care to ensure the wound fully healed.

Instead, they did the opposite. About a month later, he was rushed back to the hosptial. Not only had the bedsore not improved, it had rapidly detereorated. It was now ten to twelve inches, ran along his back and buttocks, and was deep–penetrating into the tissue and muscles underneath his skin. These sort of Stage 4 pressure sores are incredibly dangerous and painful.

In this man’s case, the bed sore was gangrenous–ultimately sending him into septic shock. Septic shock occurs when an infection enters the bloodstream and causes problems–like extremely low blood pressure. It is life-threatening, often leading to organ shut-down and death.

So how did this situation occur? Mistreatment at the nursing home. In almost all cases, bed sores (also referred to as pressure sores or pressure ulcers) can be prevented with proper care. That didn’t happen in this case, and it seems to be a trend. Medical records indicate that the facility was cited on 60 separate occassions in 2010 alone. Those errors include things like medication mistakes, chemical restraints, violations of basic resident rights, and more.

Are their legal ramifications for this? Likely. Most of these errors probably stem from traditional negligence. The caregivers had a duty to act reasonably to prevent harm and failed to do so. That is usually the case when things like bed sores develop or when a resident is allowed to have a serious fall that leads to damage.

However, that does not mean that medical malpractice is never at play. Nurses and doctors are required to abide by proper standards of care in their profession when dealing with residents at these facilities. If they prescribe too much medication, miss a diagnosis, or ortherwise violate those standards of care, then malpractice might be at play. They key is usually the specific conduct involved that led to the error.

While traditional negligence is far more common in these settings, it is a mistake to assume that professional malpractice cannot occur. A lawyer who has experience on these nursing home cases can explain how the legal details are likely to play out in your exact situation.

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