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Nursing Home Lawsuits: Do they represent isolated events or are they representative of poor care?

court houseOne of the most frequent claims I hear from nursing homes and hospitals concerning pending litigation is how the lawsuits are simply isolated events and are not really indicative of the type of care that they provide to their patients.

While such claims may indeed be very true at some facilities, the reality remains that rarely do facilities have their inferior care targeted upon one patient.  Rather, I tend to see patterns of poor care and mistakes scattered amongst multiple patients at a facility.

I recently read an disturbing article concerning the history of dangerous care provided to patients at Heartland of Charleston Nursing Home in West Virginia.  The facility (which happens to be part of nursing home giant ManorCare) has received a good deal of negative publicity in the past few months after the family of a neglected patient received a monumental $90.5 million verdict in compensatory and punitive damages for the dehydration death of their loved one.

While verdicts on the scale of the Heartland case are fairly rare, Zac Taylor of the West Virginia Gazette uncovered a fairly extensive list of problems at the facility that makes it appear as though patients— past and present– may be similarly mistreated.

When analyzing inspection reports from the Heartland facility over the past several years, recurring patient safety problems and sanctions including:

  • A resident, labeled as a fall risk, was found face down on the floor six hours after she was admitted. Nurse’s aides had placed a fall mat on one side of the woman’s bed. She would have struck a tile floor had she rolled off the other side, the report states.
  • One resident had an unnecessary catheter for more than two months, while two more residents were not given proper treatment after doctors had declared them incontinent. The inspector found that one of those residents had been sleeping on a bed with a large wet ring stretching across the bottom sheet.
  • Some residents were taking medications they did not need. According to the report, nurses continued to give one resident “sliding scale” insulin doses despite a pharmacist’s recommendation to stop. The pharmacist noted that the resident’s blood sugars were in “excellent control, ” and detailed the facility’s need to closely monitor the resident’s future insulin intake. Staff had not checked the resident’s hemoglobin levels in months, according to the report.
  • Nurses found one resident on the floor at least five times in two months. In January, the elderly patient fell twice in a span of about 12 hours. Staff labeled some of the falls as “attention-seeking behaviors,” according to the inspector’s notes.
  • Inspectors found that the home’s medications were not properly labeled.
  • One resident lost seven pounds in three days because staff had failed to provide dietary supplements a doctor had prescribed.
  • A resident with a right hand muscle contracture (a permanent shortening of a muscle or joint) was not fitted with a device designed to help minimize the loss of range of motion. The resident’s care plan noted a need for the device in February — four months before the June inspection.
  • Nursing staff took 10 to 20 minutes to answer several residents’ call lights.
  • One nurse’s aide was fired after intentionally unplugging a resident’s call light. Administrators did not report the incident to Adult Protective Services within the required time frame.
  • Since 2006, federal authorities revoked Heartland’s medicare funding three different times and imposed $232,375 in fines related to violations

We will likely hear much more about the Heartland verdict in the coming months and years as the case goes though the appeals process.   For the average nursing home patient and their family, this verdict should serve as a reminder that there may be similar stories of inferior care and neglect behind the headline grabbing reports.  As caregivers, it is important to fully investigate such claims….because they just might be true.

Related Nursing Homes Abuse Blog Entries:

Jury Blames Manor Care Nursing Home For Dehydration Death Of Patient

What’s In A Name? Are Large Nursing Home Chains Intentionally Attempting To Deceive The Public When It Comes To Corporate Ownership?

Nursing Home Negligence Lawsuit Filed After Man Wandered From West Virginia Facility

Big Verdicts Against Nursing Homes

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