Articles Posted in Resident Safety

When someone is searching for a Maryland nursing home to place a loved one, it’s likely that a facility’s status as for-profit or non-profit is not high on the list of priorities. Typically, the difficult decision of where to place a loved one who needs part- or full-time care is made based on location, price, and the services offered. Many families may not even think to look into the for- or non-profit status of the facility, instead prioritizing finding a place nearby where their loved one feels safe, or perhaps even knows people already there.

However, a recent study might make Maryland families rethink their priorities when searching for a nursing home. According to the study, senior residents in for-profit nursing homes are almost two times as likely to have health problems linked to poor care, compared to those living in non-profit  homes. Additionally, among residents studied at for-profit homes, there were more clinical signs of neglect, such as dehydration in clients with feeding tubes, broken catheters, bedsores, and improperly managed medications.

The leading researcher in charge of the study believes the results show that more oversight is needed in nursing homes, especially for-profit homes. However, the U.S. government is currently considering rolling back existing regulations meant to protect nursing home residents. The existing regulations were put into place to improve resident safety and well-being, to prevent nursing home neglect and abuse, and to improve reporting systems when neglect and abuse do happen. Tragically, the last part is very important—incidents of nursing home abuse and neglect often go unreported, as residents may either be too frail and ill to understand what is happening to them, or may fear retaliation if they report.

During the hot and humid summer months in Maryland, nursing homes have a responsibility to keep temperatures under control within the facilities in order to keep residents safe and healthy. Older adults are more susceptible to heat-related health issues. As a result, Maryland nursing homes should monitor residents for signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke and if a resident exhibits symptoms, the facility should immediately check for heat-related health issues and treat residents. A facility’s failure to do so may result in the facility being liable for any resulting injuries.

Heat exhaustion is when a person overheats and can lead to severe heatstroke. Heatstroke can occur when the body temperature rises to 104 degrees or higher. Heatstroke requires emergency treatment, and if untreated, it can affect a person’s brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles. If treatment is delayed, the damage to the body increases, and serious injuries and death are more likely to occur.

A person experiencing heatstroke may exhibit symptoms of confusion, slurred speech, seizures, vomiting, a racing heart rate, and other symptoms. Once someone begins to experience these symptoms, they need to be cooled down immediately, for example, by putting the person in a cool tub of water. Heatstroke as a result of being exposed to a hot environment (as opposed to heatstroke caused by engaging in strenuous activity) is most common among older adults and those with chronic illness, such as heart or lung disease.

There are different causes of action that an individual may be able to bring in a COVID-19 Maryland nursing home case, depending on the circumstances. Causes of action in a Maryland nursing home case can include negligence, wrongful death, battery, false imprisonment and infliction of emotional distress.

Negligence is among the most common causes of action. Generally, in a Maryland negligence claim, a plaintiff must show that a defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, the defendant breached that duty, the plaintiff suffered an injury or loss, and the damages proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of the duty. In a Maryland nursing home case, a nursing home may be liable for negligence if the home was negligent in caring for the resident, in failing to keep the resident safe, or in another way. For example, failing to segregate a positive COVID-19 resident, to inform other residents, to test symptomatic residents, or to require staff to wear protective gowns and masks might be potential cases of negligence.

Wrongful death claims are another common cause of action in nursing home cases. In the tragic event of the death of a nursing home resident, a nursing home may be liable for the wrongful death of the resident. Wrongful death claims brought under Maryland’s Wrongful Death Act allow claims against a defendant “whose wrongful act causes the death of another.” In COVID-19 cases, these claims would likely be brought for similar reasons as a negligence claim.

With the population aging and life expectancies increasing, nursing homes are becoming a part of more and more Maryland residents’ lives. Although many Maryland nursing homes offer quality care and safe facilities, nursing home abuse and neglect are still persistent problems across the state. It can be difficult to know the risk of this type of abuse and neglect when choosing a nursing home. While there may be warning signs to look for – such as past instances of abuse, or unclean or unsecure facilities – there are some cases where a seemingly fine nursing home may make decisions that then lead to abuse and neglect. Specifically, facilities that fall into financial trouble may cut staffing in the home, leading to new problems in a previously fine home.

For example, one nursing home was recently cited by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for making staffing decisions that led to several dangerous incidents. According to a news report covering the story, the home, which once operated seemingly without issue, suffered financially in recent years, leading them to cut staffing to save money. These personnel cuts led to an increase in quality-of-care violations cited by state regulators, with six violations in 2017 that jumpted to 22 in 2018 and 36 in 2019. The incidents included not having portable liquid oxygen tanks for patients who needed them, hiring an unlicensed caregiver, allowing a kitchen worker to supervise the dementia ward, and multiple instances of sexual abuse and medication errors. Additionally, inspectors found that the home, because it was short-staffed, was unable to adequately respond to residents’ requests for assistance. Some residents reported soiling themselves as they waited 40 minutes for someone to come to help them.

Incidents like these, which were particularly bad at this specific nursing home, unfortunately happen in facilities all across the country. Oftentimes, the patients are extremely vulnerable and frail, and may be unable to defend themselves or even tell someone else what is happening. Because of this, it is particularly difficult to catch nursing home abuse and neglect. When it is identified and caught, however, the state law allows the victims and/or their loved ones to file a suit against the home and hold them accountable for their actions. These suits may be difficult but can result in significant monetary compensation for those who have been harmed as a result of negligent staffing or other negligent actions performed by the nursing homes.

Nursing homes must meet certain standards in caring for their residents. The standards that must be met vary, depending on the jurisdiction and the local laws and regulations. Generally, the standards require that a nursing home must provide its residents with a safe environment and that it must exercise reasonable care in caring for its residents. In a Maryland nursing home abuse or neglect case, a plaintiff must show that the nursing home failed to meet its duty in properly caring for the resident under the circumstances. Courts may use different standards, such as national standards set forth for nursing home care and a nursing home’s internal policies.

Many nursing home cases involve neglect rather than intentional abuse. Examples of potential neglect include unsanitary living conditions and poor personal hygiene, which can cause sicknesses, especially to residents who are often already sick and elderly.

Almost 35,000 people die each year from drug-resistant infections, according to recent data from public health officials. The latest projection of deaths in the country is double the previous estimates, revealing the prevalence of drug-resistant infections, as one recent news source reported.

Nursing home abuse, while unfortunately common, is often difficult to catch or prove. Often, the victims are seriously disabled and vulnerable, and they may be unable to tell someone about the incident or even remember the incident at all. If they do manage to tell someone, their credibility may be undermined by the nursing home itself, denying that the incident happened and blaming the victim’s disability for causing them to lie or imagine things. Because of this, more and more nursing home residents and their families are installing cameras in nursing homes to monitor interactions between staff and the resident and look for instances of abuse.

Sometimes, these cameras can be the sole reason why a negligent nursing home is held responsible for the abuse that occurs in their facility. For example, a recent Minnesota nursing home recently discovered a video of a caregiver physically and verbally abusing a severely disabled resident. According to a local news report covering the incident, the staff member taunted the resident with derogatory and humiliating language, calling them vulgar names and asking them “do you think you have a hole in your brain?” The video also shows the caregiver tapping the resident’s face “in a slapping-type motion.” Without the video, the incident may never have been uncovered; the resident is partially paralyzed and has lost the ability to understand or express speech, and it is highly unlikely that they ever would have reported it themselves.

Fortunately for Maryland residents, the state’s laws allow a resident, or their family with the resident’s permission, to place hidden video cameras in the resident’s room. These video cameras can increase transparency in nursing homes and make it easier to catch incidents of abuse when they happen. They can also make it easier to pursue a resulting personal injury claim against the nursing home. Many personal injury cases against nursing homes likely would not have been won without video evidence, since the nursing home generally denies that any abuse occurred, and it can be difficult without hard evidence for plaintiffs to prove otherwise. Maryland is one of only a handful of states that allow video camera installation in nursing homes, and the nursing home industry actively fights against similar laws in other states.

More Maryland families are searching for nursing homes for their loved ones. Many utilize the Nursing Home Compare website run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which offers information on certified nursing homes across the country. The website allows families to compare how nursing homes rank for health inspections, staffing, resident care, and more. In October, CMS announced an addition to the website to better inform consumers about nursing home abuse:  adding a new abuse warning icon – a red circle with an open palm – next to the names of nursing homes with a history of abuse or neglect.

The plan sparked immediate backlash and controversy, with advocates from the long-term care industry speaking out against the new icon. According to a new article covering the controversy, leaders from AMDA (the Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine) have called the new icon “misguided,” arguing that it will actually be counterproductive to patients and will negatively affect the motivation of staff members in nursing homes. A spokesperson from the American Health Association even called the red hand “dumb,” arguing that it is overly punitive and may improperly lead consumers away from quality nursing homes.

The government and supporters of the icon stand by their belief that the icon is beneficial to consumers. The CMS administrator wrote in October that the icon puts “critical information at consumers’ fingertips, empowering them and incentivizing nursing homes to compete on cost and quality.” Opponents, in response, argue that the icon could make consumers not even consider certain nursing homes, even if the abuse was long ago and resolved appropriately. Additionally, nursing homes without icons may be discouraged from reporting new incidents of abuse, out of fear of earning an icon on the website. Instead of an icon, opponents argue that the best way to end nursing home abuse is to encourage reporting of incidents.

Across the country, approximately 1.4 million elderly or disabled individuals receive care in over 15,000 nursing homes. While many of these nursing homes take great care of their residents, a recent study from the U.S. Government and Accountability Office (GAO) finds that, unfortunately, nursing home abuse still occurs with some regularity. Because residents often have physical or mental disabilities and limitations, they are some of the most vulnerable to abuse. Maryland residents should be aware of potential issues of abuse when choosing a nursing home for themselves or a loved one.

The GAO’s report found that citations of nursing home abuse more than doubled between 2013 to 2017, with a particularly significant increase in severe cases of abuse. Importantly, the report also found gaps in the oversight of nursing homes. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid oversee a program with state agencies to monitor nursing home safety, but their ability to do so may be limited for several reasons. First, state agencies who survey nursing home abuse typically do not note abuse and perpetrator time, meaning the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid may not have a complete picture of who is committing the abuse, or what type is most common. Second, when nursing homes report incidents, they typically lack vital information, which often delays state agencies’ investigations. And third, the GAO found gaps in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid’s processes for referring incidents of nursing home abuse to law enforcement, which can slow down investigations and make it harder to end abuse in the homes overall. The GAO, finding these problems, also made recommendations to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid on how they can fix them and improve the safety of nursing homes and the processes for dealing with abuse.

Cases of abuse in Maryland nursing homes, which can include medical neglect or physical, verbal, or sexual assault, can cause intense emotional distress and trauma for the victim and their families, not to mention medical bills for past and possibly continuing care. While the GAO’s report may hopefully lead to increased safety in Maryland nursing homes, there will, unfortunately, still be tragic instances of abuse. If tragedy does strike in a Maryland nursing home, state law allows the victim, or their family, to sue the home for negligence. The money won in a suit, while it can never undo the damage done, may help the recovery and healing process.

As the population ages, and life expectancy continues to increase, nursing homes are becoming a part of more and more Americans’ lives. As a result, Maryland nursing homes are caring for more residents than ever. Family members who place their loved one in a nursing home want to ensure that they are safe and being taken care of, but sometimes finances or other concerns force families to place loved ones in subpar institutions. Unfortunately, loved ones can suffer from nursing home abuse that often goes unreported. A common yet overlooked form of this abuse is food safety violations, which occur frequently in Maryland nursing homes and can cause serious illness, or even death.

A recent investigative report found that there are thousands of food safety violations in nursing homes across the country each year. According to a news article discussing the report’s findings, cockroaches, flies, mold, and mouse droppings are just a few of the unsanitary conditions found in nursing homes over the last three years. In fact, unsafe food handling was the third most frequent violation in nursing homes in 2018. That same year, 33% of nursing homes were issued citations for not safely storing, preparing, and serving food. And many of these instances are not just one-time mistakes: since 2016, approximately 33% of all nursing homes were cited multiple times for the same food safety violations.

These safety violations, while concerning in any kitchen, are of utmost concern in nursing homes because people over 65 are especially susceptible to foodborne illnesses. Unlike restaurants where a patron can get up and leave, nursing home residents often have no choice but to stay and eat in their institution. The result can be deadly: the report also found that, between 1998 and 2017, there were 230 foodborne illness outbreaks in long-term care settings such as nursing homes, which resulted in at least 45 deaths, 532 hospitalizations, and 7,648 people getting ill.

Incidents of Maryland nursing home abuse can be challenging to quantify because many victims are unable to report their injuries. Additionally, loved ones are often placed in subpar institutions because their families did not have the means or ability to evaluate the facility adequately. These factors, in addition to many others, have caused a rising rate of nursing home abuse incidents in Maryland.

According to a recent news report, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) launched a consumer alert feature on its website designed to warn people of nursing home violations. The CMS operates a website called “Nursing Home Compare,” which provides consumers with information about Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing homes in the United States. The website enables individuals to see whether a nursing home meets the minimum federal standards regarding things such as staffing, health, and safety. However, the website does not readily provide a way for people to discover any instances or allegations of abuse against a nursing home. In fact, a recent Senate report publicized a government finding of increasing nursing home abuse cases by facilities that rated as poorly performing but did not receive additional scrutiny.

The new alert intends to offer consumers a new and easy way to identify nursing homes with citations and other safety violations quickly. The alert will go live in October, 2019 and will flag facilities that had negative inspection reports on abuse in the past year or behaviors that could have led to harm in the past two years.

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