It’s an almost weekly occurrence across the country. Nursing homes face lawsuits over patients who develop severe bedsores that in some cases lead to death.
One week it’s a now-closed nursing home in California dealing with its third such lawsuit. Another week it’s a New Jersey nursing home sued by the family of a woman who died after reportedly suffering from a bedsore that wasn’t properly monitored and cared for.
For families, such situations lead to heartache and tragedy. For the nursing homes, they lead to costly litigation and damaged reputations.
They also raise questions about what family members can do if they suspect a nursing home resident isn’t receiving proper care or is in danger. Part of the answer, patient advocates say, is to understand the kinds of problems that might crop up and be on the lookout for signs during visits.
For example, one reason many residents develop pressure ulcers, commonly known as bedsores, is that they wet themselves and must wait for someone on staff to change them. If there’s a delay, what begins as a minor rash can become severe.
“It’s a serious concern for nursing home residents,” says Nigel Parker, founder and CEO of RashEndZ Inc. (www.RashEndZ.com),a company that developed a skin-aeration liner for incontinence garments that prevents and treats those rashes.
Just how serious? Pressure ulcers affect up to 2.5 million patients annually, according to the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research. Complications include pain, scarring, infection, prolonged rehabilitation, and permanent disability. About 60,000 patients die as a direct result of pressure ulcers each year.
“The patient’s well being is the primary reason this needs to be addressed,” Parker says. “But if that’s not incentive enough for health-care providers, pressure ulcers also result in 17,000 lawsuits a year, so nursing homes and other health facilities are risk liability if they don’t handle the problem.”
Although the residents’ care is the nursing home staff’s responsibility, friends and relatives should do their part to make sure proper care is happening, Parker says. The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, a patient advocacy group, offers a few suggestions on monitoring and reporting problems:
Make unannounced visits. Visits are an important time to look for changes in your loved one’s health and mental status, but those visits don’t need to be predictable. Vary the times and days you visit to see the care your loved one receives when no one expects you.
Don’t delay in reporting problems. Document and report concerns and problems to staff members directly involved as soon as they arise. If nothing changes, report your concern to staff supervisors in writing and in a meeting.
Seek outside help. If the facility fails to address your concern, you might want to seek a third party’s assistance. Contact your local ombudsman, who advocates for nursing home residents. You can find an ombudsman at www.ltcombudsman.org.
“It’s critical that family members educate themselves about the issues that occur in nursing homes or other health facilities,” Parker says. “It so often falls to each individual to act as their loved one’s advocate.”