A recent action against a Pinellas County alleging abuse at a long-term care facility illustrates three of the most common legal claims in this area. According to court documents, Paula Drutman checked into Countryside Rehab and Health Center in April 2012. When she was discharged from the nursing home a little over five years later, she was in very poor health and died less than two weeks thereafter.
Now her husband claims that the lack of care at Countryside caused his wife’s injuries and subsequent death. Specifically, court documents claim that Countryside staff failed to monitor Ms. Drutman’s health, that the owner failed to properly train and supervise employees, and that she was exposed to dangerous conditions at Countryside.
The lawsuit demands unspecified damages in excess of $15,000.
Why is Nursing Home Abuse So Common in St. Petersburg?
Population demographics in this country are changing and changing rapidly. By 2060, which is only about a generation from now, the over-65 population will double to 98 million people. That’s roughly a quarter of the U.S. population.
Financially, the aging population should be good news for nursing homes. But the opposite is true, largely because Medicaid reimbursements have dropped so sharply in recent decades. Given the increased expenditures coming soon to social security and other such programs, this trend is likely to accelerate.
To help fill in the gap, many nursing home administrators accept as many patients as possible, hoping to make up a lower per-patient revenue with additional volume. As a result, the physical and human resources at most St. Petersburg nursing homes are strained almost to the breaking point.
On the other side of the equation, some administrators hire underqualified employees who command lower wages. Especially during nights, weekends, and holidays, it’s not unusual to see patient care technicians perform tasks that licensed vocational nurses should perform, LVNs doing the work of registered nurses, and so on.
The bottom line is that many nursing home administrators care more for profits than people. Many times, that attitude sets the stage for negligence and the Florida nursing home environment is no exception.
Patient Monitoring Issues in St. Petersburg Nursing Homes
Some nursing home residents enter these facilities with plans to eventually return to their homes after they recover their strength and health. But for the most part, a nursing home is one step short of extended hospice care. The residents are too physically or mentally frail to take care of themselves and need constant attention just to maintain their current physical or mental state of being.
According to court documents in the above-mentioned lawsuit, Countryside staff neglected Ms. Drutman’s health to the point that she was dangerously malnourished. That may seem like an unusual or even outlandish claim for a Florida nursing home, but it’s actually quite common and almost always related to the nursing home’s economic situation.
Procedures vary among institutions, but generally, residents go through a cafeteria-style serving line and then eat at dining room tables in a large common area. Because staff levels are so low, there is often no one in the line to make sure that residents get the food they are supposed to get, and no one in the common area to make sure they actually eat it. Then, the undertrained staff cannot see the signs of malnutrition until it is almost too late.
Bedsores are another common issue in St. Petersburg long-term care facilities. Pressure ulcers are usually not a problem as long as the patient turns in bed every two hours. But many residents lack the physical strength or mental awareness to turn themselves, and staff members may not spend enough time examining the residents during rounds. In these circumstances, pressure ulcers quickly get worse and eventually become life-threatening.
Inadequate Supervision in Florida Nursing Homes
The cost-cutting measures usually start at the top, and many times, residents and their families are the ones who ultimately suffer.
Employers, including St. Petersburg nursing homes, are indirectly responsible for inadequate patient supervision and other such negligence, even though the nursing home owner is not directly charged with supervising that patient and may not even be on site. Employers are directly responsible in areas like negligent hiring and negligent supervision.
The negligent hiring doctrine applies if the company hires a worker whom it knows to be unqualified for that position, mostly due to a lack of education or other such credentials. As mentioned, negligent hiring is very common in Florida long-term care facilities, because administrators often give workers assignments that they are simply not qualified to perform.
A criminal background can disqualify a person as well, but these situations work a little differently, for the most part. For example, assume XYZ Nursing Home hires Steve as a patient care technician, even though he has an assault conviction. If Steve later assaults a patient, XYZ is probably responsible for damages. But if Steve steals money from a patient, XYZ is probably not responsible, since his criminal background has nothing to do with the tort.
Negligent supervision works much the same way. Florida nursing homes have a duty to give employees all the tools they need to do their jobs properly. Furthermore, these nursing homes have a duty to their patients to ensure that they carry out their job functions and that wayward employees face appropriate discipline.
Patient Safety Matters in St. Petersburg Long-Term Care Facilities
Many nursing home residents idly wander from one room to the next with little or no awareness of their surroundings. Meanwhile, many facilities are almost constantly under construction, so residents either do not see warning signs or do not understand them. This combination often results in serious injury, many times from a slip-and-fall.
Falls are especially serious in nursing homes. Consider the following statistics:
- Falls are the second-leading cause of injury-related death among people 65 to 84,
- One-third of adults over 65 will fall, and half of these individuals are repeated fallers,
- Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among people over 84, and
- Over 60 percent of nursing home patients fall at least once.
In Florida, nursing home residents are invitees, because the owner receives a benefit from their presence on the land. Therefore, nursing homes have a duty to make their premises reasonably safe for their residents.
In all these instances, damages include compensation for both tangible losses, such as medical bills, and intangible losses, such as emotional distress. Perhaps more importantly, a negligence action gives justice to victims.
Reach Out to Experienced Florida Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys
Even though nursing home residents have no control over nursing home economics, they often suffer as a result of economic negligence. For a free consultation with an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer in St. Petersburg, contact Burnetti, PA. After-hours visits are available.