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Why Bother Suing Negligent Nursing Homes?

By: Jeff Powless March 6, 2023 no comments

Why Bother Suing Negligent Nursing Homes?

Attorneys who handle nursing home negligence cases are often asked this question: “Why bother suing nursing homes?” After all, they say, the patients there are already old and sick with possibly a poor quality of life…

The short answer is this: because victims of nursing home neglect and abuse deserve answers and accountability.

Nursing home neglect and abuse has long been a problem of epidemic proportions. The sad extent of neglect has been confirmed by government investigators, patients, families, and even by many nursing staff members who work in nursing homes. While the numbers are shocking, the statistics don’t adequately speak to the gravity of the harm. It is important to remember that the statistics are a compilation of individual tragedies, that needlessly imposed injury and human suffering upon a patient and family. There are countless clients that we serve with individual stories similar to the following that highlight how neglect and mistreatment of a patient at the hands of the nursing home industry shouldn’t be left without accountability.

Charles was born in 1923, a few years before the Great Depression. When he was 11 years old, his father died and his family lost their home. He, his mother and sisters had to rely on hard work and the mercy of relatives and friends to make ends meet. Charles spent virtually all of his time after school working to help meet the fami-ly’s needs.
At age 14, Charles met Florence, a sensitive, beautiful, vibrant classmate with whom he instantly connected. They became fast friends. After graduating high school together in 1941, they couldn’t bear being apart and began dating. They eventually married in April 1942.

World War II began, and Charles joined the Army Air Corps. After leaving military service, Charles and Florence had their first child. They would have three other chil-dren in the coming years, who would later spoil them with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Charles worked during the daytime and attended law school at night on the GI Bill. Soon after earning his law license, however, Charles — with Florence’ blessing — felt called to enter the clergy. Charles completed his theological training and spent the remainder of his work life as an ordained minister. Florence served as a volunteer in Charles’ churches, helping with the choir, missionary groups, teaching Sunday School, and participating in other activities.

Charles and Florence were virtually inseparable throughout their adult life togeth-er. They enjoyed nearly every meal together, a ritual that continued on through retirement.
But in 2010, Florence’ health began to decline. She fell at home and broke her hip, which limited her mobility. She also developed a problem with swallowing and needed a feeding tube to help her meet her nutritional requirements.

Charles was a diligent caregiver. He assumed full responsibility for helping Flor-ence take care of herself at home and was trained to provide care related to her feed-ing tube. He told people that he viewed this not as a burden but as a blessing. “It brought us even closer together because we spend all of our time in each other’s company.”

While Florence was no longer physically capable of taking the long walks she had always so enjoyed, she and Charles spent much of their time together on long strolls down memory lane. As always, they were content just being together.

In June of 2014, Charles injured his back while attending to their bird feeder and was temporarily unable to help Florence with her daily routine. He grew concerned that Florence might need immediate assistance and he’d be unable to promptly and adequately assist her. So they made the difficult decision that while Charles recov-ered from his back injury, Florence would be admitted, temporarily, to a nearby nurs-ing home to ensure her safety and well-being. As difficult as it was for both Charles and Florence to contemplate being apart, they knew they’d be together again once Charles’ back pain subsided. And despite his pain, Charles could visit Florence at the nursing home.

The nursing home offered assurances that they were fully equipped to take care of Florence, promoting the fact that they were staffed 24/7 with professional nursing caregivers who would make sure Florence received the attention and care she need-ed.
But just ten days later, the unexpected happened…

Charles was awakened by a telephone call in the middle of the night from a nursing home employee who bluntly stated: “We’re informing you that your wife just died.” Charles was so overwhelmed by shock and grief that he couldn’t process the news. This shock would linger.

Charles did recover from his back injury, and became determined to find out what had happened to Florence on the night she died. According to the death certificate she died of “aspiration pneumonia”. Charles began requesting the nurshing home medical records, and further requested for an investigation by the Indiana State Department of Health. The ISDH investigation found that the nursing home failed to comply with state and federal nursing home regulations and failed to provide necessary care and services to Florence.

Charles hired a law firm to investigate. After reviewing documents related to the case and deposing Florence’ physician, who was called on the night she died, Charles learned the following details:

  • To prevent choking, the nursing home should have elevated the head of Florence’ bed to 30 degrees as the doctor ordered, but nursing home records indicate that the staff didn’t;
  • The nursing home staff should have routinely checked and attended to Florence’ feeding tube to prevent choking or other injury, but nursing home records indicate that the nursing staff didn’t;
  • The nursing staff should have administered oxygen to Florence when they knew she had vomited, was having trouble breathing, and her blood oxygen saturation levels dropped below 90%, but nursing home records indicate that the nursing staff didn’t administer oxygen;
  • Even though the nursing home staff knew Florence was having difficulty breathing, was not getting enough oxygen, and was declining toward death, they never even called 911 or requested an ambulance;
  • Nursing home records indicate that no one checked Florence’ vital signs for at least 40 minutes as her condition deteriorated prior to her death;
  • A nursing home staff member later claimed that Florence’ doctor refused to order her transport to the hospital; however, no such conversation or phone call was ever documented in Florence’ nursing home medical record; and,
  • Although a physician’s order stated that Florence should be resuscitated if needed, nursing staff never attempted to resuscitate her.

The bottom line is that this horrible tragedy of errors was preventable. Of course, Charles was never told of these multiple, blatant care failures by any nursing home representative. It is only because Charles chose to obtain records, investigate, and prosecute this matter with the help of counsel that these horrific facts came to light.

Charles invested more than 70 years in his wonderful, lifelong relationship with Florence. Certainly their relationship and good fortune should not have been stolen from them that day, that way. Charles knows his efforts would not bring Florence back, of course. But they would secure some degree of accountability that would hopefully serve to help protect others. This was reason enough for Charles, who wanted to make a difference in order to honor his wife, who was wrongfully taken from him.

So, why bother? Because life is precious. Because no one has the right to decide that someone else’s life is not important enough to matter. And because no one should be mistreated like too many nursing home patients are mistreated every day in this country.

You Can Help Make A Difference

All hope is not lost, and there are steps that you can take if you suspect a nursing home patient is suffering from abuse or neglect. First, you must know that nursing home patients have rights, and nursing facilities are required to ensure that these patient rights are being upheld.

There are things you can watch for to help determine whether your nursing home is taking the steps necessary to protect patients from neglect and abuse.

Further, if problems arise, patients and families can also seek guidance from a trained nursing home Ombudsman who can provide advocacy, guidance, support, and help to resolve disputes while protecting the resident’s confidentiality.

If the problem is serious or unresolved, you can file a formal complaint with the Indiana State Department of Health to begin an investigation of the facility’s failure to provide safe, clean, and adequate care to its patients.

Finally, you can seek out the help of an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer who can assist you. You should not delay in seeking the assistance of an attorney, because you have limited time to file a complaint.

Our law firm helps families and their loved ones hold nursing homes accountable. Contact us today for your free case evaluation and consultation.

 


Jeff Powless is an attorney and the author of the 2017 book, Abuses and Excuses: How To Hold Bad Nursing Homes Accountable.  Abuses and Excuses breaks new ground in helping patients and families hold bad nursing homes accountable, sharing a wealth of insider strategies and insights. It’s an eye-opening account of corporate greed, acts of neglect and abuse, an insidious industry culture of cover-up, and the actual harm that inevitably befalls vulnerable nursing home patients all across the country with shocking frequency.


 

 

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