No one doubts that the medical staff and caregivers at long term care facilities for the elderly have a tough job on their hands. They are required to provide not only medical attention, but also a home-like environment as much as possible for the comfort and happiness of their patients. Even the best facilities have issues with trying to keep all their residents happy and safe.
Proper procedures and more importantly, proper implementation and follow up are keys to keeping patients safe from harm from the actions of others, or especially in cases where dementia is a factor, actions by the patients which endanger their own safety.
A recent situation in an Ohio nursing home not far from the West Virginia border led to the death of a resident of a nursing facility. The resident obtained a bowl of peanut butter from a kitchenette without staff knowledge and choked while eating it. The peanut butter lodged in her throat, causing the immediate need of the Heimlich maneuver, CPR, and an ambulance transfer to a hospital.
The staff knew this patient was high risk for choking and aspiration after previously exhibiting a difficulty with swallowing and choking while eating.
The resident lived in a unit of the center where about ten people required a pureed diet and/or thickened liquid. Families were notified that they must let the facility know when they were dropping off food so it could be properly secured.
The facility received a deficiency for the choking incident and corrective measures were quickly put into place. In general, the center had a very good reputation and had recently received awards for dedication to improving quality care for seniors. In this case, the center was not subject to any immediate consequences after deficiencies were corrected. The WV Department of Health works with the Federal Department of Health and Human Services when complaints such as this arise. If either agency has the impression that something of a criminal nature is going on, a separate investigation is handled by the police.
In West Virginia, nursing homes are inspected every 15-18 months or whenever a complaint is lodged with the state's regulatory agency. These reports are available online at Nursing Home Compare's website (http://www.medicare.gov/nhcompare) along with a star rating for each facility.
You can look up facilities as well as resident satisfaction surveys. You will find information there about which channels to go through to file a complaint. If a family has concerns, they work things out with the providers to get an investigation going. Some families with grave concerns have even placed a small camera in the resident's room to monitor the care being provided.
Nursing Home Negligence or Abuse Concerns Include:
- Unexplained Injuries Such as Bruises, Cuts, Burns, Sprains, or Fractures that are in Various Stages of Healing
- Medication Errors
- Dehydration and Malnutrition
- Alzheimer's Patients that Continually Wander Off
- Failure to Supervise
- Bed Sores, Pressure Sores, Decubitus Ulcers, or Other Infections
- Sudden Changes in Behavior
- Patient in an Over-Medicated Condition
- Unexpectedly Large Withdrawals From Bank Accounts
- Falls, Dislocations, and Broken Bones
- Inappropriate Use of Physical Restraints
- Physical, Emotional, and Psychological Abuse
Nursing Home Negligence and Wrongful Death
The safety and health of your loved one should be everyone's foremost goal, and you should find that agencies as well as your care home are willing to work with you for solutions. If you cannot achieve results through ordinary channels, a national network, The Nursing Home Abuse Advocates (NHAA), helps individuals and family members be informed about their legal rights regarding neglect and abuse of their loved ones. A report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services division of Health and Human Services concerning a long term care center can be obtained online or by submitting a request to the WV Department of Health by letter, telephone, or email.
Sources and information:
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel, "Nursing Home Making Changes After Death" by Amanda Nicholson, December 14, 2014.