The stories of elder abuse and neglect that come to me from all over California are always heartbreaking and tragic.
We regularly see egregious examples of elderly patients in facilities who have suffered pressure sores, sepsis, fractures, unexplained injuries, and head injuries including subdural hematomas. Others have been given physical restraints, chemical restraints, or have been verbally and physically abused in a facility. Sometimes there is even resident on resident abuse where the facility is doing nothing to protect the resident or patient.
If a family member of yours is the victim of any of these serious issues, you should certainly reach out to me and my firm. There is recourse available, and we can help.
What if it seems like the situation is borderline? The case of an 89-year-old woman in a skilled nursing facility in Pennsylvania is a good example. Nancy Young had dementia and needed both a rolling walker and a special shoe in order to safely get around the facility. Not surprisingly, Nancy fell multiple times at the nursing home, most of which were well-documented and most of which resulted in only minor bumps and bruises.
Residents in nursing homes are at high risk of falling. They need constant care and attention, they’re old and frail, and because they often have some form of dementia, they have lost safety awareness. Also, some medications prescribed to seniors have side-effects such as dizziness that will increase their risk of falling. Nursing homes can’t be held responsible every time someone under their care falls, can they? Accidents happen. Can a fall be a result of neglect?
In Nancy’s case, the ownership of the facility where she lived changed hands shortly after she arrived, and the new owners, a for-profit LLC, took over her care. Her Resident Care Card listed her as being on what’s called “fall precaution” meaning that she was at high risk for falling and that she was to have repeated visual checks. Her nursing facility, however, was reportedly short-staffed, which meant that the care Nancy needed was not necessarily being given. On December 8, 2018, at 6:30 PM she was found on the floor, wearing slipper socks and without her walker. No one witnessed the fall, her family contends, because the facility did not have enough nurses on duty and no one was paying attention. She suffered a fractured hip and a fractured forearm and was in excruciating pain. A week later she died. Needless to say, Nancy’s family hired an attorney and took the owners of the skilled nursing facility to Court.
What happened to Nancy is much more common than you might expect. People put loved ones into nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, and memory care centers in hopes that trained staff will provide continuous care and monitoring. Unfortunately, when for-profit organizations run such facilities, corners may be cut. It’s simple math: profit margins go up when nursing levels go down. At some point, cutting staff to dangerous levels results in residents being neglected. Patients with dementia are at risk for wandering off without a walker, fall down, and hurt themselves – sometimes badly.
At times these cases may seem borderline, and the only way to know for sure is to hire an attorney who can obtain facility records and check on staffing levels at the time of incidents and accidents. As an attorney, I will look for whether the facility knew that a patient was a fall risk? Did the facility fail to create a care plan to prevent or reduce the risk of falls? Did the facility provide adequate staffing levels to keep their patients safe? When accidents happen, and to keep people safe, it’s usually worth investigating.
Borderline care is still a form of neglect, and facilities need to be held accountable. Remember, accidents don’t have to happen if the facilities properly assess a patient, create and implement a care plan to reduce the risk for falls, staff appropriately and hire competent skilled nurses.
If you have concerns about a loved one in a care facility, please give us a call at York Law Firm (916) 643-2200