Families trust nursing home facilities to give their elderly loved ones the care and attention they deserve. Sadly, however, this does not always happen, and nursing home residents can be harmed as a result of such negligence.
In addition to intentional abuse and neglect at the hands of nursing home staff, there are also many preventable hazards in nursing homes that pose a considerable risk to residents. Below, our Baltimore nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys discuss some of these common hazards and the measures that nursing homes should take to neutralize them.
What Hazards do Nursing Home Residents Face?
The nursing home danger that most people are familiar with is nursing home abuse. While intentional acts of physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse are serious crimes that can have devastating effects on a resident, there is also a plethora of hazards present in nursing homes that can pose as great a risk.
A bedsore is a type of pressure sore that forms on the skin as a result of immobility. Bedsores can be prevented when nursing home staff tend regularly to residents who are paralyzed, in a coma, or otherwise require long periods of bed rest.
When nursing home staff reposition and clean residents frequently, it is unlikely that residents will develop bedsores. Failure to do so, however, often results in the development of these painful sores. When further left untreated, bedsores can develop into infections or exposed tissue wounds. At this point, the only treatment left available may be surgery, a procedure that is riskier for older adults.
Bedsores typically have four stages of development, and it is unacceptable for a bedsore to get to a later stage and require surgery. The four stages of a bedsore are as follows:
- Stage 1: At this stage, bedsores only affect the uppermost layer of the skin. The skin can be red, itchy, inflamed, or hot.
- Stage 2: At this stage, bedsores dig deeper below the surface of the skin, creating an open wound or blister. Even with immediate treatment, it could take up to three weeks to heal.
- Stage 3: At this stage, bedsores cut into the fat layer beneath the skin tissues, bringing signs of infection such as bad odors and drainage. These bedsores typically require antibiotics and up to four months of healing.
- Stage 4: At this stage, bedsores affect the muscles and ligaments underneath the body’s fat layer and can take over a year to heal after treatment. These injuries require emergency medical care.
The medical community refers to bedsores as “never events” because these injuries are entirely preventable and should never happen when residents receive proper care.
Sadly, however, it is estimated that approximately 300,000 nursing home residents suffer from bedsores each year.
Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries for seniors. Therefore, it’s important that nursing homes take measures to mitigate the risk of falls in their facilities.
When nursing homes fail to do so, residents may fall down and experience the following complications from the incident:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries and paralysis
- The need for surgeries, which can lead to surgical complications
- Painful physical therapy
- Extended rehabilitation and recovery time
- Bedsores or pressure ulcers while bedridden
Given the potentially devastating consequences of falls for seniors, it’s up to nursing homes to implement the following measures to prevent them:
- Provide constant supervision to seniors who have a greater risk of falling
- Train staff in proper transfer techniques when moving a senior
- Prescribe correct dosages of medication to avoid grogginess
- Keep the facility clean and free from tripping hazards
According to the National Safety Council, choking is the fourth-leading cause of unintentional injury death among adults—and this risk only increases with age. As such, nursing homes must ensure they take appropriate measures to both prevent choking and to respond appropriately if choking does occur
The top causes of choking incidents in seniors include:
- Dysphagia (trouble swallowing due to age)
- Medication errors or side effects
- Breathing tube issues
- Lack of appropriate supervision during meals
- Insufficient food preparation
- Chronic heartburn and digestive problems
Choking incidents lead to the following devastating medical events:
- Heart attack or stroke
- Throat and esophageal injuries
Elopement is when a senior wanders off a nursing home’s premises unsupervised. Elopement is an incredibly dangerous event that is entirely preventable and, therefore, unacceptable to happen in a nursing home.
Many nursing home residents suffer from advanced degenerative conditions including Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. As such, an unsupervised trip outside can be extremely dangerous or even fatal. The risks that elopement poses to seniors include:
- Pedestrian accidents
- Abuse and assault
- Slip and fall injuries
- Extreme cold exposure
- Severe sunburn and heatstroke
There are several measures that nursing homes can and should take to prevent elopement, including:
- Implement security systems in common areas.
- Install appropriate exit alarms and locking systems.
- Educate staff on the risk of elopement and wandering.
- Use patient tracking devices when necessary.
- Provide front desk and security personnel with photos of frequent wanderers.
Families who entrust their elderly loved ones to the care of a nursing home or another long-term care facility expect, at the very least, that their loved one will receive the proper sustenance. Food is a basic necessity, yet many nursing home residents suffer from malnutrition. This lack of adequate nutrition can be caused by:
- Not getting enough food: The nursing home may not feed residents frequently throughout the day or provide enough food at each meal. Further, if residents are not fed on time, elderly patients may feel starved for lengthy periods.
- Insufficient nutrition: The nursing home cafeteria may have a limited menu or provide options with low nutritional value. Lack of variety can mean residents do not receive the recommended dietary intake for essential nutrients. In addition, facilities must strictly adhere to care plans that require specific foods to treat medical conditions.
- Inability to use the nutrients in the food: Known as low bioavailability, it refers to the percentage of nutrients that the body absorbs and uses. Unfortunately, some medical conditions leave people unable to utilize the nutrients in particular foods. Thus, even if the resident receives enough food with the proper nutrients throughout the day, they still might end up malnourished. Therefore, facilities must ensure these patients receive the right foods prepared correctly for optimal absorption.
- Not eating:The nursing home might serve an elderly resident their meal, but the patient refuses to eat. Instead, they might not like their meal options or have difficulty chewing, swallowing, or keeping the food down. In addition, they might require assistance using utensils.
Sudden and unusual weight loss, low energy, or sunken eyes are signs that an older adult suffers from malnutrition. Nursing homes must create a sufficient care plan for each patient, which includes dietary requirements, instructions, and preferences. However, when the facility does not make or follow these plans, it puts residents at risk of malnutrition.
Limited staff dealing with multiple patients are often overworked, making them prone to these medication errors:
- Forgetting to give a patient their medicine
- Providing incorrect dosages
- Mixing up medications for different residents
- Administering unnecessary medications to sedate or otherwise make residents more agreeable
Errors occur because staff members are exhausted, distracted, preoccupied with other tasks, or frustrated with patient behavior. Medication errors in nursing homes can cause severe harm or death.
What Should Nursing Homes Do to Ensure Residents’ Safety?
There are several measures that nursing homes can take to mitigate the aforementioned hazards.
The best way for nursing homes to ensure the safety of their residents is to staff their facilities appropriately. Many instances of nursing home abuse and neglect occur due to a lack of trained professionals on the premises. Such understaffing allows for unsupervised workers to perform their job negligently, and with impunity.
In addition to hiring the right amount of staff, nursing homes should take the following steps to protect their residents:
- Conduct regular assessments on each resident and determine their risk of injury.
- Assess staff members on a regular basis and remove negligent or inadequate staff members from the facility immediately.
- Implement a simple, anonymous process for staff members to report system inadequacies or dangers.
- Take reports of abuse or neglect seriously and launch timely investigations into such matters.
While these measures can greatly improve residents’ quality of life and safety, many nursing homes will not take the appropriate steps. It is these nursing homes that must be held accountable for their negligence.
Suspect Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect?
Do you believe your loved one has experienced abuse or neglect in their nursing home? If so, our Baltimore attorneys are prepared to fight for your family’s rights. Our law firm focuses on nursing home negligence and medical malpractice cases. We put our extensive legal experience to work for you to protect your right to compensation.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever that nursing homes implement proper health and safety precautions. There is no acceptable excuse for the harm elderly members of our society face in nursing homes.
If you or a loved one have been harmed at a nursing home, our team can help prove your claim by demonstrating:
- The nursing home had a duty to care for the resident
- The nursing home failed to act in a reasonable manner
- This failure resulted in harm, such as injury or death
- Your loved one experienced quantifiable or intangible damages
Contact Brown & Barron LLC Today
It’s important to keep in mind that Maryland has a time limit to file nursing home negligence claims. So, contact one of our attorneys at Brown & Barron LLC as soon as possible increases the likelihood that you and your family will obtain justice.