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Tales From Our Files – Lessons Learned Concerning Nursing Home Negligence

Tales From Our Files – Lessons Learned Concerning Nursing Home Negligence

My legal practice is concentrated on assisting victims of nursing home negligence throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Over my twenty-five-year career, I believe I’ve seen nearly every conceivable fact pattern concerning neglect and abuse at these facilities. It recently occurred to me that providing examples of the problems that my clients have encountered over the years might serve a useful purpose in helping others to avoid common lapses in nursing home care.

This second installment addresses a common problem encountered by nursing home patients—the risk and dangerous consequences of dehydration.

My firm represented an elderly man I’ll call “Gus” who was admitted to the defendant’s nursing home facility. Two days previous, he had suffered a stroke. He was admitted to the defendant’s facility to undergo rehabilitation and therapy as a result of the stroke. It is important to note that during the time that he was a patient at the defendant’s facility, he was totally dependent upon the staff for the most basic necessities of life. This included, but was not limited to, needs such as nourishment, hydration, and hygiene. During Gus’s stay in the defendant’s facility, he exhibited overt signs that he was not receiving sufficient hydration. A review of his relevant medical records reveals some telling facts:

  1. His average daily fluid intake translated to 1,084 cc or 53% of his anticipated need. This is clearly inadequate and leads inexorably to his ultimate dehydration;
  2. Gus was ultimately observed to be “very dry” following a routine examination by a dentist. Notwithstanding this fact, no notification to doctors and staff of this important finding was forthcoming;
  3. Three days later, he had decreased tolerance of fluids (i.e. “sips”);
  4. It was noticed that he developed difficulty swallowing; and
  5. He experienced increased lethargy, a likely consequence of his progressive dehydration. Once again, this finding was not properly identified or treated. Neither was Gus’s relatively sudden and significant weight loss.

Gus became non-responsive and was transported to the hospital as a result. Despite the hospital’s attempt to aggressively hydrate him, he died the following day.

We hired an expert who opined that the facility contained a host of deficiencies including their failure to promptly identify, report, and aggressively treat the various symptoms and consequences of drastic dehydration. Moreover, our expert concluded that “[i]t seems evident to me that the care provided to [Gus] was substandard and likely resulted in his premature demise.”

I filed a lawsuit against the nursing home for Gus’s wrongful death. We ultimately settled the case for a substantial sum.

My advice is for family members to take an avid role as an advocate for their loved one who is in the nursing home. Only by being actively “involved” can you possibly prevent an accident from occurring.

Dino M. Colucci, Esquire, is a founder of Colucci, Colucci & Marcus, P.C., a law firm dedicated to representing victims of neglect. For many years he has lectured and served as an adjunct Professor of Law at Suffolk University Law School. He has also been named as a “SuperLawyer” by his peers as published by Boston Magazine.