Neglect in a Nursing Home

1. How can I recognize signs of neglect of a nursing home resident?

2. How many times does something bad have to happen before I should talk to a lawyer?

3. My elderly mother complains that she does not eat some days and that she is left sitting for hours, but I’m not sure that I can believe her because of her diminished mental state.  I live out of state and can’t afford frequent travel.  What should I do?

4. It took me 6 months to find a nursing home for my elderly father – if I hire a lawyer, won’t they kick him out or treat him worse?

5. My mother’s nursing home seems like a nice place – how can I find out if there have been any complaints against it?

6. I visited my aunt at her nursing home last Sunday.  She seemed happy and well cared for, but some of the other residents smelled of urine and feces.  Should I be concerned?

7. My bedridden father has developed a bed sore.  Does this mean that he has been neglected?

8. I found some chocolate candies in the room of my diabetic mother – she claims one of the nurse’s aides gave them to her. Can I file suit for neglect?

9. Are there any specific rules about call buttons?

 

1. How can I recognize signs of neglect of a nursing home resident?

The most common forms of neglect involve the failure of the nursing home to provide water, food or medicine to the nursing home resident. Other evidence of neglect may involve leaving a resident alone – in his room or in a hallway – for hours at a time, the failure of nursing home staff to change soiled linens or bed clothes, or the failure of staff to respond to call buttons.

For example, in a recent case, a daughter visited her father at a nursing home and found her father very thirsty.  The daughter poured a cup of water, which the father drank. She kept pouring and her father consumed four cups of water.  Further investigation revealed that the staff did not ask if residents were thirsty between meals, even though some medications cause dry mouth and other medications require frequent hydration.

As the guardian of an elderly nursing home resident, you should count pills, and when you visit, observe the status of other patients.  We also recommend that you “team up” with the guardian of one or more other residents and work together to observe both your parents and your teammate’s parents when you visit.

Neglect is often caused by laziness, carelessness and understaffing and poor staff training.

2. How many times does something bad have to happen before I should talk to a lawyer?

This is a difficult question.  Obviously, even the best nursing home staff personnel can make mistakes and you may not want to pursue a lawsuit if the damages were slight and the underlying problems have been fixed.

However, it has been my experience that judges and juries hold nursing homes to a very high standard with regard to the care of residents. After all, most nursing home residents were productive citizens who worked and raised families, and who now need extra help for daily needs. What juror does identify your parent with his own mother or father?

As a general rule, neglect cases call for either a pattern of neglect over weeks or months, or identifiable, serious damage caused by the neglect.

3. My elderly mother complains that she does not eat some days and that she is left sitting for hours, but I’m not sure that I can believe her because of her diminished mental state.  I live out of state and can’t afford frequent travel.  What should I do?

Many cases of nursing home neglect go unreported because the resident cannot communicate the problem. If you cannot visit regularly, try to find a friend or relative who will visit.  You should also establish a working relationship with the children of other residents and conduct your investigation using a team approach. You should also find out what types of activity reports are kept in [does GA law require certain types of reports] the facility and request in writing that the nursing home provide you copies of these reports.

The Georgia Department of Human Resources Division of Aging Services also maintains an ombudsman program whereby the State of Georgia can investigate allegations of neglect. You can reach the Georgia ombudsman’s office toll free at 1-888-454-5826, or by fax at 404-463-8384.

4. It took me 6 months to find a nursing home for my elderly father – if I hire a lawyer, won’t they kick him out or treat him worse?

When you arranged for your father to live in the nursing home, you signed paperwork that set forth the rental agreement. If you seek the counsel of a lawyer regarding a claim for damages, your lawyer will review the rental agreement and advise you as to the legal rights your father has to stay.

Filing a claim with the State or retaining a lawyer does not release the nursing home from its obligations to provide your father with a safe and clean living environment.

Obviously, if you have reached the point where you are consulting with a lawyer like me about damages, you should have some concern regarding the safety of the nursing home.  Perhaps it is time to begin the search for a new living facility.

5. My mother’s nursing home seems like a nice place – how can I find out if there have been any complaints against it?

Unlike some states, Georgia does not maintain a list of nursing  homes that have been cited for neglect, or of lawsuits against nursing homes. The federal government, however, does evaluate every nursing home that receives federal funds.  Click here to search for a particular nursing home.

As part of my investigation prior to filing suit, I will search for published cases relating to a particular nursing home or nursing home company, and research court records to uncover other lawsuits that have been filed.

6. I visited my aunt at her nursing home last Sunday.  She seemed happy and well cared for, but some of the other residents smelled of urine and feces.  Should I be concerned?

The quality of specific caregivers within a nursing home may vary significantly.  It is possible that the team assigned to your parent may be compassionate and dedicated, while individuals assigned to others may be less qualified.  However, it has been our experience that the one certainty about nursing home staff is a high level of turnover.

Thus, your discovery of poor living conditions for any resident should be a wake-up call for you to raise the issue with the administrator, increase your visits and possibly to notify the Georgia State ombudsman (888-454-5826).

7. My bedridden father has developed a bed sore.  Does this mean that he has been neglected?

Bed sores result from a breakdown of skin. They are frequently occur when a nursing home resident is left in one position.  The small blood vessels near the skin are blocked and the skin itself falls apart. Left untreated, a bedsore (also called a pressure ulcer) can result in infection of the skin, muscle and bone. Bed sores are extremely painful and can the entry point for bacteria and germs.  The most common sites for bed sores are where bones protrude, such as the hips, elbows, shoulders and ankles.

Nursing home residents who are bedridden or wheelchair bound are at risk for bed sores. Your father’s patient care plan should provide that nursing home staff physically move your father’s arms, legs and body to prevent the formation of a bed sore.

If a bed sore does develop, it needs to be treated immediately.  It has been our experience that some patients will develop bed sores despite preventative efforts.  If, however, your father’s bed sore was not detected quickly resulting in a serious infection, or there is evidence to suggest that his bed sores developed because he was left in one position for many hours, you should investigate further.

Click here to link to the National Decubitis Organization to learn more about bed sore diagnosis and treatment.

8. I found some chocolate candies in the room of my diabetic mother – she claims one of the nurse’s aides gave them to her. Can I file suit for neglect?

The nursing home’s failure to prevent your mother’s consumption of foods dangerous to her is a symptom of negligence or neglect. As a practical matter, however, an attorney will not pursue a negligence case against a nursing home if there has been no significant injury or damage to the nursing home resident.

When you discover that the nursing home is not honoring your mother’s special diet, you should advise the administrator of your concerns in writing.

9. Are there any specific rules about call buttons?

Call buttons need to be easily accessible to nursing home residents, including access from the bed and the bathroom. A nursing home’s failure to provide working and accessible call buttons is most likely a negligent act.

Similarly, the nursing home staff should be trained and prepared to respond to call buttons. A pattern of staff’s failure to respond to call buttons is evidence of negligence and neglect.

Contact Jonathan Ginsberg by phone at 770-393-4985

or by e-mail at jonathan @ glolaw.com