Posts tagged with "nursing home malpractice"

Medical Negligence Now Identified As The Third Leading Cause of Death In U.S.

As unbelievable as it may seem, a study undertaken by Johns Hopkins has concluded that medical negligence is now deemed to be the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.  The facts surrounding this revelation are nothing short of staggering.  For example, the study concludes that the majority of medical negligence incidents are typically unreported.  This means that the documented 251,454 deaths occasioned last year by medical negligence omits entirely the larger number of unreported cases.  It also omits deaths caused by negligence at nursing homes throughout the U.S.  This trend has been in escalation for quite some time.  For example, in 1999 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office reported that as many as 180,000 premature deaths were caused by medical negligence among Medicare patients alone.

Owing to disinformation perpetuated by a very effective, expensive and protracted marketing campaign, insurance companies have created the widely held impression that frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits have resulted in an exorbitant increase in physicians’ malpractice premiums.  This phenomena, so the fiction goes, has both escalated the consumer’s cost of health care while driving a certain percentage of qualified physicians to leave their  profession altogether.  Nothing could be further from the truth, however.  That the nation’s healthcare system is broken is undisputed.  The reason for its dysfunction, however, is the endless bureaucracy and red tape machinated by the insurers themselves.  As presently constituted, the  system foists artificial burdens and barriers on doctors who, after all, should make recommendations and decisions based upon a patient’s need and not upon the need to successfully navigate the insurance industry’s draconian rules.

In Massachusetts, there are other safeguards to prevent meritless lawsuits against physicians.  For example, in each instance, a Tribunal is convened in court which is comprised of a judge, a lawyer and a medical professional.  Unless a majority of the tribunal is adequately convinced that a potential case has merit, the case is dismissed.  This gate-keeping function, along with the not unsubstantial expense of pursuing a medical malpractice case usually discourages frivolous cases from being pursued in the first place.

Vigilance is the key to avoiding medical negligence.  You should seek to be your own advocate and ask your doctor lots of questions to satisfy yourself that you are receiving appropriate care.  To this end, there is no such thing as a “stupid” question.  Seeking a second opinion is yet another way of increasing your odds of avoiding malpractice.  While the United States enjoys the finest health care in the world, like all other things in life, it isn’t perfect.  Your avid awareness and participation in your medical care ensures the best possible result.

Nursing Home Negligence And Protecting The “Greatest Generation”

Nursing Home Negligence

Our country’s annual celebration of the 4th of July holiday always brings to mind the many sacrifices that have been made down the years to guarantee the freedom that too many of us take for granted during the remainder of the year. From the “baby boomers” who lived through the strife of the Viet Nam era to the most revered members of the “greatest generation”, our ranks of senior citizens is dramatically swelling. Indeed, conservative estimates suggest that the number of people aged 65 and older will more than double between 2010 and 2050. This equates to 88.5 million people or 20 percent of our entire population. In addition, those aged 85 and older will rise three-fold, to 19 million citizens, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Recent times have also seen a dramatic increase in Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America suggests that 5.1 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s disease—most of whom currently reside in a nursing home facility. This number is expected to dramatically increase over the next 25 years and researchers are at a loss to explain why.

With an ever increasing population of senior citizens comes the obvious need for medical services and long-term nursing home care. As a result, traditional nursing home facilities are often overwhelmed and find that their resources are stretched beyond the limit of what is generally considered safe. Reliable projections reveal that this already overwhelming burden is ever increasing with more seniors necessitating a greater level of supervision and skilled nursing home care year to year. Unfortunately, it is apparent that the increased demands on nursing home care are proportional to a steady rise in medical mistakes. Nursing home patients are most commonly elderly, fragile and particularly susceptible to suffering life threatening consequences in instances that involve seemingly minimal instances of neglect. For example, leaving an elderly patient who is a known fall risk unattended for even a brief period of time can frequently lead to a fractured hip, the onset of pneumonia and eventually, premature death.

In recent times, advocacy groups like the National Quality Forum, a non-profit organization devoted toward developing a strategy for measuring the quality of healthcare in the United States, introduced the idea of “never events.” A “never event” is an event, mistake, or error that should never occur in the healthcare setting. The most common “never events” in a nursing home setting are:

  • bed sores;
  • pressure sores;
  • dehydration;
  • providing a patient with the wrong medicine;
  • providing a patient with the wrong dosage of medicine;
  • failing to properly assess a patient’s fall and choking risk;
  • dropping a patient thereby causing fractures;
  • failing to properly supervise a patient who is prone to choking;
  • failing to keep a patient from wandering or eloping from the facility; and,
  • failing to properly supervise a patient who is otherwise considered “at risk” of a particular danger or harm.

It is important to note that most nursing home staffs are comprised of competent, dedicated and generally well meaning individuals. The formidable burden that these medical professionals face, however, tax their ability to consistently deliver the type of quality healthcare that we would all want for our loved ones. To this end, greater vigilance is required of a patient’s family to identify perceived vulnerabilities and instances where care is seemingly substandard. A greater awareness of a patient’s ongoing needs and changing medical condition, (as well as a pro-active and collaborative relationship with a patient’s caregivers), is the best insurance against the often devastating consequences that follow from a “never event.”

Dino M. Colucci, Esquire, is a founder of Colucci, Colucci, Marcus & Flavin, P.C., a law firm dedicated to representing victims of elder abuse and neglect. He is also an adjunct Professor of Law at Suffolk University Law School.

Massachusetts regulators combat nursing home drug practices

Families who are struggling to meet the complex needs of elderly family members often look to nursing homes to help provide care. Usually, relatives are assured that the needs of their loved ones are met inside such establishments.

Nursing homes employ many staff members who are responsible for administering drugs to patients and assisting residents in such daily routines as taking a bath and going to the toilet. Unfortunately, nursing home negligence incidents are increasingly common across the country.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is the federal agency that regulates nursing homes. A representative of this center stated that 425 Massachusetts nursing homes were cited for unnecessary or incorrect drug administration from 2009 to 2011. Unfortunately, state regulators rarely took action against these facilities. Inspectors did not consider the incidents serious enough or believed that the regulations were ambiguous.

According to the federal agency, many of these facilities are administering strong antipsychotic medications to subdue some residents who struggled with behavior problems related to dementia. Based on federal guidelines, antipsychotic drugs should only be administered to patients with severe mental illness. Experts say that the drugs are actually dangerous for patients with dementia.

Because of the prevalent use of sedatives, some residents reportedly have trouble simply opening their mouths to eat, and some are unable to do physical activities or stay awake.

The federal agency warns the nursing homes that antipsychotic sedatives have potentially fatal side effects. The federal department would also like state agencies to more strictly enforce the applicable regulations.

The agency is in the final stages of setting guidelines for the proper use of antipsychotics, and fines will be imposed on nursing homes that do not follow the guidelines. This may improve treatment inside these nursing home facilities.

Families and relatives of residents in nursing homes should forward their concerns to authorities with regard to any mistreatment of their loved ones at a nursing home. If necessary, the family members can file a lawsuit against a nursing home facility to recover damages and hold the responsible parties accountable.

Source: The Boston Globe, “Report: Mass. Rarely nixes nursing home sedatives” Dec. 23, 2012