In many nursing home negligence cases it may be easy to point the finger at the person who was responsible for the direct care of the individual at the time they were injured.
Assuming the situation involves an acute incident such as: a medication error or fall— it is easy to look at the circumstance as an open and shut case of an isolated employee simply not performing their job properly. However, a closer inspection of the circumstance typically yields a situation where responsibility goes much further up the chain of command.
From a liability perspective, implicating the management or parent company can be a tactical decision— particularly if the facility is claiming that they have limited — or a complete absence of insurance coverage. Litigation issues aside, it is important to understand that there’s a correlation between the actual care provided by staff and how that is impacted by decisions made by management.
Just recently, I read about how an elderly patient at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans fell from the corner of his bed and broke his neck after a recently hired staff member left him in that precarious position to retrieve equipment. Given that the man suffered from a variety of maladies that made him particularly susceptible to falls, it would be easy to pin the blame for this incident on the individual staff member and move along.
Poor judgment of the staff member aside, it turns out that the nurse involved in this incident was hired as a contract employee as part of the VA’s cost cutting measures. By reducing the number one operating expense- staffing– the Veterans Nursing Home elected to cut staffing levels and hire contract nurses in lieu of higher paid, unionized staff that had historically been caring for patients at the facility.
The decision to use privatized staffing may not appear to be much of difference (and in fairness, may not have prevented the incident we discussed above from occurring in the first place) from a outward appearance. However, when it comes to consistency in patient care and understanding the unique needs of each patient the change can be quite significant.
As an attorney involved in nursing home litigation, I can attest to complications that can ensue when new staff are expected to care for fragile patients with complex conditions. While it may be argued that the new staff could learn a great deal about each patient’s needs by studying his or her chart— expecting a staff member to do so is completely unrealistic when they may be responsible for caring for significant number of patients every shift.
Sadly, as long as the decision makers at nursing homes choose to ignore patient needs and trim staffing levels and pay to the lowest feasible levels, there can be little doubt that episodes of patients suffering significant injuries on the clock of inexperienced (and underpaid staff members) will continue.
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