Causes of Wrongful Death in Nursing Homes
Wrongful death in a nursing home facility occurs when abuse or neglect by the home and/or its employees causes the death of a resident. Some of the frequent causes of wrongful death are:
Slips and Falls
With aging there comes a diminishing of one’s physical strength and health. This overall degeneration can lead to weakened muscles, dizziness, instability and poor vision, all of which can put older adults at great risk for life-threatening falls. Businesses who provide care for the elderly have a duty to evaluate the needs of each individual patient and to provide a safe environment for them. Unfortunately, this duty is neglected far too often, and approximately 1,800 nursing home residents die annually from slip and fall injuries. Tragically, past deaths could have been prevented if appropriate prevention programs had been in place and stringently followed.
Serious infections at a rate of approximately 3 million per year run rampant in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. As a result, as many as 380,000 residents die each year from such infections. The most common types are urinary tract infections, varying diseases that cause diarrhea, staph-type infections, and super-infections like MRSA. Infections breed rapidly when certain behaviors by nursing home staff take place, such as poor personal hygiene given to residents, negligent catheter care, and failure to properly tend to patients’ incontinence issues. Therefore, it is crucial that nursing home staff enforce proper techniques to prevent infection.
Dehydration and Malnutrition
As many as two out of every 10 nursing home patients suffer from dehydration and malnutrition that is serious enough to lead to their deaths. Several factors related to aging can cause difficulty in eating for residents. Problems swallowing, impaired ability to handle food, confusion, and problems chewing rank at the top of the list of reasons why elderly people can’t get enough to eat without assistance. Nursing home staff should be trained to feed residents or help them with meals. In addition, nutritional supplements and a better variety of foods can be used to help prevent malnutrition.
Sadly, dehydration has been identified as one of the leading forms of negligence in nursing homes. Because patients have a fear of not being assisted in getting to the bathroom, the residents may forgo drinking a sufficient amount of fluid to stay properly hydrated. Shockingly, in some nursing homes, staff members intentionally withhold fluids from residents to keep them from wetting the bed.
Nursing home residents are at a higher risk of death when they are abused. Studies show that nearly half of the residents with dementia suffer from physical abuse, and interpersonal violence is more common among elderly people with disabilities. Some patients are particularly vulnerable, but all nursing home residents are at risk of being abused.
Some staff members of nursing homes have been arrested by authorities, convicted and then imprisoned for assaulting residents. A lack of training and low wages are no excuse for abusing the elderly. Even though physical abuse may not be documented as the direct cause of the death of a resident, constant and consistent abuse can lead to a gradual deterioration of the person’s health and be the actual underlying cause of death.
Medical malpractice is usually connected to hospitals and outpatient facilities, but it also occurs in nursing homes. If a doctor fails to properly diagnose the condition of a resident or doesn’t treat an illness properly, the resident can die. Additionally, a nurse at the facility may fail to notify a doctor or the resident’s family of major changes in the individual’s health or behavior. Of equal concern is the occurrence of medication errors. This is an overuse or misuse of medications given to residents at nursing home facilities. All of these instances can fall into the category of medical malpractice.
Families of victims who have died due to causes such as the ones mentioned above have every right to speak with a lawyer about filing a nursing home wrongful death lawsuit.
State and Federal Nursing Home Laws
State and federal laws concerning abuse and negligence are in place to help protect residents of nursing home facilities. If a resident dies from either of these causes, the at-fault facility has violated the law and may face legal repercussions from the family of the deceased.
Older Americans Act Reauthorized 2016
Known as the Older Americans Act, this law helps the older population by defining elder abuse and authorizing funding for elder neglect and abuse programs throughout the country. This program helps:
- Bring awareness to the problem of elder abuse
- Train professionals to spot and respond to abuse and neglect of the elderly
- Develop a community response to such abuse
Nursing Home Reform Act
The Nursing Home Reform Act governs nursing home facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding. It requires these facilities to provide for “the highest practicable physical, mental, and psychological well-being of each resident in accordance with a written plan of care.”
The Elder Justice Act of 2009
This Act specifically requires nursing home operators and their employees to file with federal and state authorities written reports of any suspicion of elder abuse or other crimes. The Elder Justice Act went into effect in 2010 and is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
State Laws for Nursing Homes
Each individual state licenses and regulates the nursing homes operating within its boundaries. Most states have regulations that include strict guidelines pertaining to:
- Distribution of medication to residents
- Dementia care
- Food and dietary needs of residents
- Infection management
- Nursing home staff training and qualifications
Legal Actions Against Nursing Homes
Long-term care facilities and nursing homes have a legal obligation to avoid harming residents in their care. The care facility has the responsibility to provide a certain standard of medical care, safety, and cleanliness for patients. When employees or administrators fail to ensure this duty of care, negligence is usually the result. For example, if a nurse allows a patient to develop extreme bedsores, this is a clear case of negligence.
The term liability means there is a legal responsibility involved. If a resident dies from infected, neglected bedsores, the nursing home is legally responsible for this wrongful death. Families may consult a nursing home wrongful death lawyer to learn about filing a lawsuit against a negligent care facility.
Speak With a Nursing Home Wrongful Death Lawyer
If a loved one has wrongfully died due to negligence or abuse in a nursing home facility, the family should make contact with a highly skilled nursing home wrongful death lawyer who has experience in handling these types of claims. The attorney can use legal means to access information and documentation to help prove the negligence or abuse that caused the wrongful death. Records of past violations may exist, as well as potentially troubling personnel files of employees who were involved in your loved one’s care. Do not be intimidated into silence. Seek the advice of a legal representative who knows how to hold a nursing home accountable.
- CDC. “Nursing Homes and Assisted Living (Long-term Care Facilities [LTCFs])”, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/longtermcare/index.html. August 8, 2019.
- Bob Tedeschi. “In nursing homes, deaths are shrouded in secrecy and silence”, STAT, https://www.statnews.com/2016/01/14/nursing-homes-death-secrecy/. August 8, 2019.
- NCOA. “Elder Abuse Facts”, National Council on Aging, https://www.ncoa.org/public-policy-action/elder-justice/elder-abuse-facts/. August 8, 2019.