Lawyers, family members, and senior care advocates frequently cite the civil justice system as one of the key ways that long-term care facilities are actually held accountable for their conduct and spurred to make changes to minimize future harm. That point is well illustrated by a recent case related to the tragic death of a wheelchair bound resident and the lack of punishment (or chance of punishment) from state officials.
Nursing Home Wrongful Death
The Republic published an article this week about a 67-year old Tucson man who was living at a rehabilitation and care center. Like many of his fellow nursing home residents, the man had mobility problems. He was confined to a wheelchair and usually required the assistance of staff members at the home to get around properly. Obviously, nursing home staff members understand their role in helping residents in this way who depend on them to move in certain settings.
In this case, the resident was wheeled outside on a particularly hot Arizona day. Reports indicate that it was well over one hundred degrees. Yet, even with the heat (and the resident’s vulnerabilities), the man was allowed to languish outside in his chair without any supervision. In fact, he was left without oversight for at least an hour and fifteen minutes. Is it logical or prudent for a senior resident to be left in one hundred plus degree heat for over an hour without monitoring? Of course not. In fact, nursing home employees admit that even when inside residents are supposed to be monitored “every five, ten, or fifteen minutes.”
The consequences of the elopment in this case were severe. The senior resident was found unresponsive and rushed to the hospital. He eventually died as a result of the situation.
Inadequate State Accountability
One might expect state regulators to hold the facility strongly accountable for the obvious lapses in care which led to this tragic nursing home death. Not quite. Instead, the facility was fined $500 for leaving the wheelchair bound resident outside alone in the brutal temperatures. The paltry fine was not a result of any determination that the facility was not really at fault. Instead, the penalty was so low, because that is the maximum amount of penalty allowed under state law. No matter how egregious the mistake–in this case, fatal–$500 was the max punishment for one violation of rules on a single day.
With that sort of penalty it is no wonder that many home are loathe to many any changes or invest resources to improve care. After all, even though hiring more care workers may result in vastly improve services (and the prevention of deaths like this one), hiring even a single extra worker is far more expensive than simply paying $500 for the death of a resident.
The accountability simply does not exist in these settings.
That is one of many reasons why it is absolutely crucial for the accountability to be demanded by the family members of those actually hurt via a civil lawsuit. It’s often the only way to ensure proper redress is provided and the best chance at encouraging changes to actually improve the lives of seniors living in poor conditions. Fortunately, the family in this case has already filed a wrongful death lawsuit involving claims of nursing home negligence and abuse.
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