One of my colleagues recently handled a case where a resident was left out on the patio of a skilled nursing facility in a wheelchair, and the resident was unable to talk or move. The staff put him out on the patio thinking, oh he’ll be able to get the fresh air. But then they left him out there unattended – for three hours.
Of course, he was in the shade at first, but in the hours that followed, he started getting more and more sun. Remember that here in Sacramento, especially in the summer, temperatures can soar in the early afternoon as the sun rises higher and higher. It can be a balmy 80 degrees at 11AM but by 2PM temperatures can rapidly climb to well over 100 degrees.
A 92-year-old man’s skin is extremely sensitive to burns. In a matter of an hour, the man had blisters all over his face and arms – every exposed part of his body. Unfortunately, he was incapable of speaking or moving, so he was defenseless against prolonged sun exposure – he had absolutely no way of calling for help. His caregivers were supposed to keep him safe, but they failed.
Sunburns on the elderly can happen in a matter of minutes; if left long enough, such events can be fatal. Why did his nurses forget about him? They were too busy with too many other residents to care for.
The man ultimately died from his sunburns. Why? Because the facility was short-staffed, and each caregiver was doing the work of two or even three others. I feel sorry for nurses who are put in such terrible positions, but at the same time, I feel worse for the residents and families who become unintended victims.
We hold nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities accountable because people’s lives are at stake. When they fail, someone must speak up and for them.