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Did your loved one die while in the care of a nursing home facility? It is a sad truth that wrongful deaths occur nationwide throughout nursing homes – a place where the elderly are expected to receive the personalized care and attention they deserve. If the death is unexplained or otherwise suspicious, you should not hesitate to discuss your case with an experienced nursing home abuse attorney from Pintas & Mullins today.
Nursing home wrongful deaths are often caused by caregiver abuse or negligence. This is due to several factors, such as understaffing and overworking employees, negligent hiring practices, or poor training.
Signs of Elder Abuse & Negligence that Can Lead to Wrongful Death
Residents who do not receive proper care are much more likely to die prematurely. Such abuse may come from issues related to malnourishment and dehydration – which can lead to heart failure or physical degradation. In other cases, the resident may suffer from poor hygiene that leaves them vulnerable to infection and disease. Abuse or neglect can also cause unprevented, undiagnosed, and untreated bedsores that cause infection and ultimately septic shock, which is often fatal.
Other signs of abuse and neglect at a nursing home include:
- Changes to a patient’s medication schedule
- Medication errors
- Use of chemical restraint – such as giving powerful antipsychotic drugs (Seroquel, Risperdal) to residents without consent medical necessity
- Abusive use of physical restraints
- Improperly monitoring patients
Demand Justice with a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Many nursing homes attempt to cover-up criminal or negligent acts following a wrongful death. In fact, reports show that as many as 8 out of 10 deceased seniors never even receive an autopsy. Do not let nursing homes get away with sweeping their abusive or negligent practices under the rug; it will only allow this behavior to continue and harm more residents. Contact our nursing home abuse law firm – we handle nursing home wrongful death cases nationwide and will meet our clients anywhere.
Causes of Wrongful Death
The staff at nursing home facilities have a responsibility to ensure the safety and care of their elderly residents. When elderly residents pass away due to negligent acts of either nursing home employees or administrators, it may be considered a wrongful death.
Wrongful death is a preventable tragedy that claims the lives of elderly loved ones that otherwise would have lived many more years. While elderly loved ones often die in nursing home facilities, they should never die due to the negligence of the staff or management.
Causes of Wrongful Death in Nursing Home Facilities
The death of an elderly loved one is difficult enough, but to learn that the death was a result of negligence or abuse by the nursing home staff is heartbreaking and likely to provoke frustration and anger. The following are common causes of wrongful death in nursing home facilities:
Seniors in nursing homes are often prone to developing infections due to their thin skin, or the fact that they are either bedridden or wheelchair-bound which may result in bedsores. Untreated bedsores, also known as pressure sores or pressure ulcers, are easily treatable in early stages but can cause life-threatening medical issues or even death if left untreated. If left untreated, bedsores are just one of the many causes of wrongful death in a nursing home facility. Additionally, if the nursing home does not properly clean the common areas or residents’ personal areas, bacteria and other viruses can grow and spread, leading to serious issues. For example, sepsis infections can be fatal for seniors in nursing homes, especially when compared to other conditions that typically put nursing home residents in the hospital.
Lack of Supervision
Nursing home residents often suffer from a lack of mobility or issues with their strength. They may need assistance getting in and out of bed, in or out of a wheelchair, or help to go to the bathroom. Often unsupervised residents may try to attempt these activities by themselves. If an elderly resident suffers a fall, this may lead to broken bones, internal damages, a traumatic brain injury, or even death.
Additionally, some residents may attempt elopement if left unsupervised. Elopement from a nursing home is when an elderly resident with cognitive issues such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may leave the nursing home facility due to confusion. Once the elderly resident is out of the control and care of the nursing home, they may become injured or die in an accident.
Nursing homes must provide for the basic needs of residents and ensure their health, safety, and comfort. If the nursing home staff does not provide basic needs such as water or nutritional food, residents can quickly become dehydrated or malnourished. Residents may also experience substantial weight loss or gain, which can lead to death.
Additionally, neglect can include leaving residents unattended for long periods of time in which they soil themselves, causing an increased risk of infection or bedsores which can lead to serious medical conditions or death. Elderly nursing home residents are in these facilities because they are unable to care for themselves. Any form of neglect by nursing home staff or management could lead to a wrongful death.
Most elderly residents of nursing homes require medication for different medical conditions. Nursing home staff members must follow a strict protocol to ensure that each resident receives the proper medication, at the proper time, and in the proper amount. Additionally, nursing home residents must take certain medications with food or water. In other cases, nursing home residents must swallow or apply medication to their extremities.
In many cases, elderly residents may have illnesses that require a strict medication schedule such as dementia, an illness where sufferers may participate in wandering if they do not receive the correct medication dosage. If an elderly resident of a nursing home is ever over or undermedicated, provided the incorrect medication, given the incorrect dosage of medication, or had the medication administered improperly in any way, it can lead to death.
Wrongful Death Claims
If your elderly loved one suffered any form of neglect or abuse that led to their death, you may face medical bills, funeral costs, or other unexpected expenses. You have the right to receive compensation on behalf of your elderly loved one who suffered neglect at the hands of the nursing home employees or management.
Immediate family members such as spouses and children, as well as some other family members in certain cases, can file a wrongful death claim on behalf of their loved one. However, there are strict deadlines regarding the time frame in which these family members may file a wrongful death claim.
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You want only the best for your loved ones when you carefully choose a nursing home for an elderly relative’s care. Unfortunately, nursing home residents experience the most elder abuse and neglect, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA).
The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 states that all nursing homes must provide a standard of care that promotes elderly adults’ quality of life. Nursing facilities should provide services and activities to attain or maintain the highest practical physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being of each resident. This care includes meeting their daily nutritional and dietary needs. The standard of care also prohibits abuse and neglect, which can take many forms.
One form of nursing home neglect involves a failure to regularly assist a resident with eating and drinking, which can quickly cause dehydration in an elderly person.
Elderly adults may not develop thirst regularly and therefore require prompting from a caregiver to drink fluids several times a day. The nursing home staff has the responsibility to monitor a resident’s intake of fluids, as well as help them to hydrate adequately and ensure they do not suffer the effects of dehydration.
Nursing home residents who do not receive adequate hydration can suffer from a number of adverse conditions that can develop rapidly and may even lead to death.
Effects of Dehydration on Elderly Adults
A nursing home resident needs help staying hydrated in order for their body to perform all major functions and generally stay in good health. Dehydration can occur quickly and can be mild, moderate, or severe.
Many older adults do not consume an adequate amount of water and may not notice the early stages of dehydration. A dry mouth or muscle cramps, for example, can seem quite harmless, but they may also indicate dehydration.
Some other signs of dehydration include:
- Trouble walking
- Rapid heart rate
- Dry and thin skin that tents when someone presses it
- Very dark urine and decreased frequency of urination
- Low blood pressure
- Inability to sweat
Dehydration in the elderly may also present itself in kidney failure, seizures, brain swelling, and coma. Severe dehydration causes a great deal of damage to the health of an elderly person and, if left untreated for too long, can ultimately result in death.
Dehydration in U.S. Nursing Homes
Several factors such as staff shortages, a high resident-to-staff ratio, and frequent staff turnover may cause dehydration or malnutrition of nursing home residents. The nurses may feel the need to rush through individualized care for each patient, which can lead to the neglect of residents’ basic needs and worse.
Without adequate nutrition and fluids, a nursing home resident’s health can quickly deteriorate. Caregivers have a responsibility to administer fluids and nutrition regularly, making sure that a resident in their care stays adequately hydrated and nourished. Nursing home staff also need training to identify and quickly address the early signs of dehydration.
Nursing Home Abuse May Lead to Wrongful Death
If a nursing home fails to ensure that your loved one stays hydrated adequately and your family member subsequently dies as a result of medical complications due to this neglect, you may have a right to receive compensation. You also have a right to speak to a nursing home lawyer and file a wrongful death lawsuit.
If a caregiver administered the wrong medication to your loved one, failed to supervise them, or neglected a resident’s basic needs for food and water over a period of time, the effects may prove fatal. A wrongful death can result from a combination of errors, neglect, and failures by nursing home staff or nursing home administration, but taking legal action still requires ample evidence.
The human body relies on several complex systems, operating in unison, to perform the many necessary functions that keep us alive. These systems require a variety of substances called nutrients to help fuel and drive the body on a daily basis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Malnourishment refers to an extreme case of lack of nutrition when one or more of these nutrients remain depleted.
Malnourishment is classified as a very serious condition that can have devastating effects on your health and well-being. Some cases of malnourishment can even lead to death, the CDC reports. Understanding the needs of your body and taking steps to ensure you obtain the right nutrients may help you fight the risk of malnourishment and preserve your health.
Causes of Malnourishment
All human beings need nutrients to survive; therefore, no one remains safe from the dangers of malnourishment. To put it simply, if you do not give your body what it needs, you run the risk of undernourishment. If you fail to appropriately address undernourishment, it can lead to malnourishment over time.
Many people rely on others to help feed and keep them healthy. One example of this is infants and small children, who are not able to provide sustenance for themselves. It is important that parents and guardians of children and infants understand their dietary needs in order to keep them effectively nourished. Another example of people who depend on others for their dietary needs includes elderly adults in nursing home facilities. An elderly person may rely on a family member or caretaker to help provide them with health and well-rounded meals. Caregivers who provide inadequate care put them in danger of becoming malnourished.
A lack of access to healthy foods can also lead to malnourishment. Nursing homes have a responsibility to meet the daily living activities of their residents, which extends to implementing individualized nutrition needs into daily meal plans for residents as well as assisting them with eating. Some residents may need their food cut into small pieces or require a caregiver to directly feed them. If a nursing home staff member fails to follow the resident’s individualized nutritional plan or fails to assist the resident during meals, this failure may constitute neglect.
Food and nourishment prove essential for both your physical and mental health, as the brain also relies on nutrients to function. Rapid weight loss and hair loss may signal a lack of nutrients, so keep an eye out for these symptoms in your elderly loved one.
What Does Your Body Need to Prevent Malnourishment?
Everyone has different dietary needs. Young children, for example, require a different amount of nutrients than adults. Elderly people may also have their own specific dietary needs. In general, all people need both essential and non-essential nutrients to survive.
Essential nutrients refer to those that your body cannot produce, so you must obtain them from food sources to prevent malnutrition. Some essential nutrients include:
Your body can also process non-essential nutrients, which add to your overall health as well. An example of a non-essential nutrient includes dietary fiber.
Giving your body what it needs to stay healthy is important. If you have questions about what your elderly loved one living in a nursing home should be eating or if you think they may not receive enough nutrients, you should consult with a medical professional.
Effects of Malnourishment
Malnourishment can have devastating effects on the body and in some cases can become fatal. A number of other chronic diseases may come along with malnourishment. Symptoms of malnourishment include:
- Hair loss or depletion
- Distended or enlarged abdomen
- Bone deformities
- Cognitive function or development issues
- Lack of energy
- Loss of muscle, fat, and other tissue
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Your immune system works hard to stave off infection and keep you healthy, but sometimes your body can have a reaction to infection that proves detrimental to your health. Sepsis refers to a condition that occurs when a widespread infection in the body warrants a response that causes harm to tissue and organs. In severe cases, sepsis can lead to septic shock, a subset of sepsis that affects cellular metabolism, respiratory function, and can lead to a life-threatening drop in blood pressure, according to Healthline. Septic shock requires immediate medical attention.
Who Lives at Risk for Septic Shock?
Septic shock can affect anyone, as all human beings remain prone to infection and an extreme reaction to infection. The CDC reports that adults 65 years and older, young children under one year of age, individuals with chronic ailments, and other populations with weakened immune systems may live at an elevated risk for sepsis.
Causes of Septic Shock
The causes of septic shock can result from an infection originating in a number of places in the body, including the:
- Urinary Tract
Once your body senses an infection in one of these places, or others, it triggers an immune system response in order to fight the spread of bacteria. An extreme response has adverse effects on the body, during which sepsis can occur. While sepsis classifies as an extreme reaction to infection, septic shock refers to an acute subset of sepsis, when your blood pressure severely drops and creates potentially life-threatening conditions. If your body does not maintain a high enough level of blood pressure, your circulatory system and other organs can fail, leading to death.
Symptoms of Sepsis and Septic Shock
Sepsis and septic shock begin with an infection, and it’s important to take note if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Tachypnea (faster than usual rate of breathing)
- High white blood cell count (often indicative of an infection)
- Tachycardia (faster than usual heart rate)
- Fever (higher than usual body temperature)
- Shortness of breath (or difficulty breathing)
- Extreme pain or discomfort
- Clammy hands or excessive perspiration
- Confusion, disorientation, or signs of mental deterioration
Experiencing symptoms of septic shock does not necessarily mean you have the condition, but you should seek immediate medical attention. The results of septic shock can worsen, and only a healthcare professional may assess, diagnose, and treat your condition. If you think you or an elderly loved one living in a nursing home exhibits signs of sepsis or septic shock, you need to see a medical professional as soon as possible.
Preventing Septic Shock
The stronger your immune system, the more equipped your body remains to fight infection. Following medical guidelines to boost your immune system and maintain your health may help reduce your risk of infection, sepsis, and septic shock. You can talk to a doctor about how you can improve your immunity to disease.
Environmental factors also contribute to infection and sepsis, and guarding against these risks may help prevent your elderly loved one from suffering from septic shock. High-population areas or places such as hospitals and nursing homes often remain prone to pathogens. You can also wash your hands regularly, properly treat cuts, scrapes, and open wounds, and generally do your best to practice good hygiene. If your elderly loved one also suffers from a chronic disease that may weaken their immune system, managing their condition with the help of a medical professional may help. Nursing home caregivers have a responsibility to uphold a standard of care to prevent sepsis from occurring in their residents.
Treating Septic Shock
If you or your loved one receive a diagnosis of septic shock, treatment may include fluid administration, antibiotics, medications to help control blood pressure, and other methods or procedures that help stabilize bodily function, according to a study on current treatment strategies and new approaches to sepsis and septic shock in The Eurasian Journal of Medicine. In any case, a medical professional may help diagnose and treat this condition.
What to Do if You Experience Septic Shock
Hopefully, you and your loved one will never experience the trauma of septic shock, which can have long-lasting effects on your health and emotional well-being.
In the aftermath of septic shock, you may find yourself wondering how your elderly loved one acquired such a serious condition. Every case proves different, but septic shock may result due to negligence on behalf of a caregiver at a facility where your loved one resides. Exposure to a healthcare facility or nursing home that failed to properly maintain its premises and created an infectious environment, for example, can put those exposed at risk.
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Nursing home residents may need to take some sort of medication. While nursing home facilities should have stringent protocols that employees and management must follow for medication distribution to their elderly residents, unfortunately, medication errors in nursing homes still occur. In fact, studies published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society show that over 25% of nursing home residents are victims of medication errors resulting in hospitalization and death. Most of the time, medication errors prove entirely preventable and occur as the result of negligent actions of the nursing home staff, management, attending physician, or pharmacy. Understanding the types of medication errors that occur and your elderly loved one’s rights can help you determine the next course of action for you and your family member.
Types of Medication Errors
Medication errors can occur either in the preparation or the distribution of medications to elderly residents in nursing homes. A medication error could contradict a physician’s orders, the drug manufacturer’s instructions regarding preparation, or the professionally accepted protocols regarding the administration and distributions of medicines in a nursing home.
The following represent some ways a medication error can occur in the preparation and distribution of medications to a nursing home resident:
- A physician prescribed the incorrect medication or the wrong dosage for the resident.
- A physician fails to check for any interactions with any other medications the resident is currently taking.
- The nursing home staff, management, or pharmacy distributes the wrong medication entirely or the wrong dosage amount to the nursing home resident.
- The nursing home staff administers the medication incorrectly or does not provide the required food or water needed to accompany the medication.
- A pharmacist or manufacturer mislabels medications.
- A caregiver commits medication preparation errors, including crushing, mixing, rolling, or slicing medication incorrectly
- A caregiver fails to properly explain how to take a sublingual tablet, causing a patient to swallow it instead.
- A caregiver or pharmacist distributes medication after its expiration date.
- The nursing home staff does not distribute the medication in a timely manner.
- The nursing home staff or physician does not properly check lab results for residents and adjust medications accordingly.
- The nursing home staff “borrow” medications from one nursing home resident to give to another when medication supplies run low.
Medication errors can result in consequences ranging from minor to deadly, according to the Journal of the American Geriatric Society.
Preventing Medication Errors
Every nursing home should have a system that operates between the physicians, nursing home staff, and pharmacy to ensure the prevention of medication errors. In many cases, having connected and integrated computer systems throughout the nursing home staff and pharmacy can provide consistent and accurate communications regarding the medications for elderly residents.
Often, nursing homes may utilize automated dispensing systems for uniform and consistent medication distribution. All nursing home staff members should be adequately trained in a similar way to ensure consistency regarding medications. The preparation and distribution of medication should receive inspection on a routine basis. Every medication provided to a nursing home resident should include the right dosage and be administered at the correct time.
Results of Medication Errors
A report conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that preventable deaths among the five leading causes of death (i.e., unintentional injuries) are rising in the United States.
The elderly remain more susceptible to catastrophic consequences as a result of medication errors. If a nursing home staff member ignores an order from a physician, practices poor medication management, borrows medicine from one resident to give to another, or exhibits any other negligent behavior with respect to medication that results in a medication error, it can lead to severe injuries or death.
If your elderly loved one suffered an injury as a result of a medication error, you may have the right to file a medical malpractice claim against the attending physician, the nursing home staff, the owner(s) of the nursing home facility, or the nursing home’s pharmacy.
Building a strong medical malpractice case can take time. The state of Illinois imposes a time limit on any type of claim against a nursing home such as medical malpractice, negligence, or wrongful death.
Signs of Neglect
Nursing home neglect refers to a variety of issues that stem from insufficient care of elderly residents in nursing homes. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), neglect can take either a physical or emotional form. Nursing home neglect classifies as elder abuse and involves the illegal breach of duty a nursing home has to ensure the protection and safety of its elderly residents, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA).
While abuse involves the mistreatment of a person by another in a position of trust, neglect refers to the failure to provide caregiving duties for the health and safety of elderly residents. Consequences of neglect can include catastrophic injuries or even death. Understanding the signs of nursing home neglect can help possibly prevent neglect or help spot neglect if it occurs.
Types of Nursing Home Neglect
Nursing home staff and caregivers can commit elder neglect of residents in several ways. The following list provides some examples of neglect that can occur in a nursing home:
Elderly residents rely on nursing home staff members to help them get in and out of bed, get in and out of their wheelchair, go to the bathroom, and have food and water. Without proper attention, many nursing home residents remain alone without basic life necessities. If a caregiver essentially deserts an elderly resident in a facility, the elderly adult may attempt to get out of a wheelchair themselves or go to the bathroom themselves, leading to a fall, which may result in injury or death. If a nursing home does not provide proper water or food in a timely manner, oftentimes nursing home residents have no way to obtain these items for themselves independently. Failure to provide proper food and water can quickly lead to dehydration and malnutrition.
Nursing home residents often require medications on a regular basis. If a nursing home neglects to provide the correct medications, in the correct dosage amounts, at the correct time, this may signal negligence on the part of the caregiver. Make sure to always check to see if your elderly loved one is receiving their medications properly and on the required schedule.
Emotional neglect in the elderly occurs when a caregiver treats an elderly person in a way that can cause serious emotional or psychological pain or distress. Some ways a senior resident can suffer from emotional neglect in a nursing home can include the nursing home staff ignoring or trivializing a resident’s requests or questions. Another example of emotional neglect includes if the nursing home staff moves a resident’s walker or wheelchair so that they feel humiliated and unable to move around the nursing home. Berating or yelling at nursing home residents or threatening any kind of physical or sexual abuse qualifies as emotional neglect or abuse. In either case, a nursing home resident should never have to endure this type of emotional distress.
Signs of Neglect in Nursing Homes
Some of the warning signs of the types of neglect in a nursing home described above can include:
- Weight loss or gain.
- Dehydration or malnutrition.
- Hair loss or tooth loss.
- Bedsores or infections.
- Ripped or torn clothing.
- Signs of being undermedicated.
- Lack of personal hygiene.
- Sudden anxiety or depression.
- Outbursts of anger.
- Changes in personality or behavior.
- Withdrawal of normal activities.
- Changes in eating or sleeping.
- Fear of nursing home staff members.
- Childish behaviors.
- Repetitive behaviors.
One of the most disturbing signs of neglect in a nursing home involves the refusal of the nursing home staff to allow you to see your elderly loved one when you visit, according to the NIH. You have the right to visit with your loved one, and if the nursing home refuses that right, it may signal that they are attempting to hide signs of nursing home neglect or abuse. If you feel your elderly loved one may be in any kind of danger, you should contact Adult Protective Services as well as local law enforcement.
Reporting Elder Neglect
If you believe your elderly loved one suffered from any kind of neglect in a nursing home, you should remove them as soon as possible. Provide your elderly loved one with support and emotional counseling if needed. Additionally, contact Adult Protective Services or law enforcement. In most cases, the government will appoint a caregiver who conducts an official investigation into the elderly neglect and determine what abuse or neglect occurred.
Pintas & Mullins Law Firm May Help
When a loved one passes away due to dehydration and nursing home neglect, you have a right to take legal action on behalf of your cherished family member.
We may help you hold the responsible parties accountable. Proving negligence and holding the owners or administration of a nursing home liable can involve a complex and challenging process. You may need to obtain medical records, find expert witnesses, and get physicians’ opinions.
Pintas & Mullins Law Firm may advise you and help to build your case. Consulting with our firm comes at no risk for you as we do not charge attorney’s fees unless we win your case. Call Pintas & Mullins Law Firm at (800) 842-6336 for your free consultation.
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