Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect: Bedsores & Pressure Sores
One sign of potentially serious negligence at a nursing home that deserves special attention is bedsores. Also called pressure sores or decubitus ulcers, bedsores are a serious problem for bed-bound and wheelchair-bound patients, both at home and in assisted living facilities. Bedsores develop when the patient’s weight is on one area, especially a bony area, so long that blood to the area is cut off.
This leads to damage and death of the affected tissues, causing deep sores that can reach into muscle and bone. Healthy people don’t develop these sores because they can simply change positions when they get uncomfortable, something that disabled people cannot do.
Signs of Bedsores
To find bedsores, families should look for any sores or discoloration of the skin in the areas where the patient is most often lying or sitting. In beginning stages, bedsores look like a reddening of the skin that does not disappear when the pressure is taken away. (This is more difficult to see on darker-skinned people, making it important for families of dark-skinned patients with mobility problems to stay aware.) Stage II bedsores look like blisters or scrapes. By Stage III and Stage IV, bedsores are ulcers that extend into the tissues below the skin, sometimes including muscle and bone.
In some cases, dead skin cells or fluids from the wound may block the ulcer and make it difficult to tell exactly how deep it goes.
Bedsores and Nursing Home Negligence
Bedsores are important to New York nursing home negligence lawyers because they are one of the most common results of neglect in residential care facilities. In 2004, a study by the Centers for Disease Control estimated that 11% of all nursing home patients had bedsores. Generally, caregivers should prevent bedsores by turning patients every two hours and being careful about how they position patients. They should also be aware of the medical conditions that make bedsores more likely, including diabetes, smoking and vascular disease.
In fact, because pressure sores are easy to prevent, federal law cuts off Medicare funding for any facility that allows avoidable bedsores to form on a patient who did not have them when entering the facility.
Even a little negligence can cause or worsen bedsores:
- Failure to turn patients often enough
- Failure to check patients for bedsores often enough
- Failure to treat known bedsores or notify family and doctors
- Allowing the patient’s skin to have prolonged contact with moisture, for example, by failing to change soiled sheets
- Dehydration and malnutrition
What are Pressure Sores?
Pressure sores are easy to prevent with proper care, but may be fatal if left untreated too long. In fact, according to research by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, pressure sores send more than 503,000 people a year to the hospital. The same study found that one of every 25 hospital admissions for pressure sores ends in death. Because bedsores cause tissue to die, they create a breeding ground for bacteria that can lead to an infection, including life-threatening infections.
Other serious complications of pressure sores include gangrene, anemia, kidney failure and amyloidosis, a potentially fatal disorder affecting the organs. Doctors can treat early-stage pressure sores without surgery, but for more serious sores, they typically must cut away the dead tissue and use skin grafts or pressure therapy to close the wound.
More about Bedsores
In addition to damaging patients’ bodies and inviting life-threatening complications, bedsores are very painful. In many cases, the patients cannot call for help because of the same disabilities that leave them dependent on caregivers in the first place. Caregivers who fail in their duty to provide this basic care are guilty of serious medical neglect, and families can and should hold them legally responsible.
What Should I Do?
After the fact, families can and should report abusive and neglectful homes to the New York State Department of Health, which has the power to punish wrongdoers and shut them down. However, in many cases, it’s too late to stop the harm. Nor can regulatory agencies compensate families for the emergency medical costs, time away from work and the cost of finding a more suitable home for the victims. To recover these costs and expose abusive and neglectful homes to the public, families may file a New York State nursing home negligence lawsuit. That’s true regardless of whether regulators choose to pursue criminal prosecution or professional sanctions against the home and its staff.
You can find out more about your rights as a nursing home resident here.
Have you or a loved one been harmed as a result of abuse or neglect in a nursing home?
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