This week, a Cook County judge upheld a $4.1 million verdict that found Assisi at Clare Oaks in Bartlett liable for a stroke that ultimately contributed to the death of Dolores Trendel. Levin & Perconti served as attorneys for the family of Ms. Trendel, securing the record-setting verdict under the Nursing Home Care Act after a jury trial in July 2017.
Just this week, the nursing home attempted to overturn the verdict and was denied. Instead, a Cook County circuit court judge ordered the nursing home to pay an additional $147,000 directly to the family, as well as $1.3 million in attorney’s fees. The combined amount added to the initial verdict makes the total awarded to the family $5.6 million.
Instead of Increased Dosage, Staff Stopped Medication
In February 2011, then-85-year-old Dolores Trendel suffered a fractured hip and was transferred to Clare Oaks for physical therapy. A blood test ordered by her physician revealed she needed an increased dosage of Coumadin, a blood thinning drug critical for the prevention of strokes. Her doctor updated her orders to reflect the increased dosage, but for unknown reasons, staff at Assisi at Clare Oaks stopped giving her the medication altogether for a period of two weeks. After staff noticed Ms. Trendel displaying symptoms of a stroke, she was transferred to a local hospital where the diagnosis was confirmed. She died 4 years later at age 89, spending her remaining years with right side weakness and an inability to talk or walk.
The nursing home was reported to have a system of checks and balances in place to prevent errors such as the one that occurred with Ms. Trendel, so it is unclear how a physician’s order for an increased dosage was read repeatedly by staff as the medication no longer being needed.
State Cited Nursing Home Numerous Times for Medication Errors
A review of the facility’s regulatory history since 2010 reveals a long string of violations, including multiple citations for errors involving medication administration and records maintenance.
The state issued Assisi at Clare Oaks a citation in April 2011 for failing to keep medication administration records (MARs) that give a detailed history of the type of medications given, the exact dosage, and the time given. This citation was issued after a random sampling of 19 residents turned up 3 with inadequate records. It was just 2 months prior to that inspection that Dolores Trendel suffered a stroke after her Coumadin was stopped.
In 2014, the facility was cited for allowing its medication error rate to climb above 5%. A review of 29 medication opportunities found 4 errors, a rate of 13.79%. The nursing home was also cited for keeping expired medications on their crash cart, an oversight that the state said jeopardized the safety of every resident in the building.
Then, in 2015, Assisi at Clare Oaks was cited yet again for failing to administer medication as ordered by a physician. They found 10 errors out of 28 medication opportunities, a rate of 35.71%.
In addition to medication errors, the nursing home has been cited in a number of other areas involving resident safety, including food storage, infection control and management practices, resident supervision, and fall prevention.
Jury Verdicts Speak Louder than State Citations
Why do these citations keep occurring year after year, sometimes repeating the exact same mistakes? And why are nursing homes with appallingly long rap sheets of violations allowed to keep taking care of our loved ones?
The state, despite its best efforts, can only do so much. Fines assessed are minimal and most nursing homes wisely take measures to spruce things up before inspections. In fact, most families are likely unaware that these citations have been issued against the nursing home where their loved one resides. Only those who know to check the Illinois Department of Public Health’s website for quarterly reports or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Nursing Home Compare site would be aware of this information.
A lawsuit is different. Media outlets are notified of lawsuits involving nursing home abuse and neglect, causing bad publicity for the nursing home. A jury can deliver justice in the form of a monetary award to the family of a victim of abuse or neglect. These elements combined with the costs of fighting a lawsuit have the potential to push many nursing homes to improve. Under the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act, nursing homes found guilty for abuse or neglect are required by law to not only pay the damages as found by the jury, but also the attorney’s fees for the resident who was victimized. While state citations and fines may not be enough to scare nursing homes into offering the care they should already be providing, bad press and jury verdicts just might.
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