Every year, thousands of patients are injured due to nursing home abuse in the form of medication errors, falls, infections, neglect and more. According to a recent U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) study, nearly 60% of the injuries suffered by nursing home residents are preventable injuries that cost billions of Medicare dollars. So, what’s going wrong and, more importantly, what can be done to prevent injuries?

An “Environment of Misadventures”

That’s how one professional summed up what’s wrong with the nursing home industry when commenting on the March 2014 HHS report. In compiling the data, researchers looked at more than 650 Medicare beneficiaries who were admitted to a skilled-nursing facility in August 2011 and stayed for 35 days or less.

What they determined was that approximately 22% experienced serious injuries, an additional 11% experienced temporary injuries and 60% of all injuries (about 19,000) were preventable. Much of the harm was due to substandard treatment, inadequate resident monitoring and failure or delay of necessary care. Over half of the residents who experienced harm returned to a hospital for treatment, with an additional estimated cost to Medicare of $208 million in August 2011. This equates to $2.8 billion spent on hospital treatment for harm caused in skilled nursing facilities in FY 2011.

The authors say that a national discussion of how to reduce the number of nursing home injuries is needed. They recommended that the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) raise awareness about nursing home safety and reduce resident harm by:

  • creating a list of potential events to help nursing home staff better recognize harm
  • reviewing nursing home practices by state surveyors
  • encouraging nursing homes to report adverse events to patient safety organizations

Many consumer advocate groups agree with their assessment and say that there is a lack of data surrounding the harmful events that occur in nursing home facilities. Sadly, one of the key reasons for a lack of data is due to patients either not reporting adverse events or feeling afraid to speak up.

Recognizing Signs of Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect

Elder abuse and neglect come in many forms, some of which are difficult to recognize unless you look for them – especially with mentally impaired patients. Common indicators of abuse or neglect include:

  • Dehydration / Malnutrition. Dehydration can start with a dryness of the mouth and evolve into cramping of the limbs, headaches, the inability to urinate, irritability and weakness. Malnutrition in the elderly can lead to various health concerns, including a weak immune system, an increased risk of infections, poor wound healing and muscle weakness.
  • Bedsores / Infections. Sometimes referred to as pressure sores, bedsores often appear as areas of redness to the skin that are warm enough to indicate possible infection. They also may be accompanied by an itching sensation. If left untreated, bedsores can become infected and lead to serious injury and even death.
  • Falls. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), about 1,800 older adults living in nursing homes die each year from fall-related injuries. Those who survive falls frequently sustain hip fractures and head injuries that result in permanent disability and reduced quality of life.
  • Medicine mismanagement. Medicine mismanagement can be very serious, especially in elderly patients who may not be able to communicate well. It’s important to watch for any adverse changes in the physical and mental condition of a patient – especially when a new medication is introduced or an existing medication is omitted.

If your loved one has been injured due to nursing home abuse or neglect, contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can review the situation, analyze your legal options and, most importantly, take swift action to make sure that your loved one is safe.