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State v. Hawkins – Improper Patient Lifting Leads to Criminal Charges

When nursing home administrators accept patients with mobility issues, there is an inherent understanding the facility will be equipped to handle lifting and moving these patients in accordance with delivering proper physical care.
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Unfortunately, our Fort Lauderdale nursing home negligence lawyers have come across far too many cases where facilities failed to draft a clear plan for safe lifting and transport of patients. In other cases, plans weren’t followed either because the facility lacked the appropriate equipment or didn’t have enough staff on hand to safely complete the task.

In the recent case of State of Mississippi v. Hawkins, it’s unclear from the Mississippi Supreme Court records whether the latter was the case. What we do know is the facility in question had a policy of requiring at least two staffers to move a patient with mobility impairment. The worker in question did not follow this policy, and it resulted in severe injuries to the patient – and criminal charges for the aide. It is likely a civil lawsuit will follow as well.

An investigation revealed the nursing assistant in question lifted the immobile patient by herself, despite knowing two people were required, per facility policy, to lift the patient. The assistant then placed the patient into a sling. The position in which she was placed was improper. The aide then left the woman unattended. The patient subsequently suffered a fall, and cried out for help. The aide returned, investigators said, but did not make any effort to call for help, perhaps fearful her job may be in jeopardy.

The end result was the patient suffered severe injuries.

Not only was the worker fired, she was indicted for simple assault on a vulnerable person. The indictment indicated that the worker “willfully, negligently and feloniously inflicted pain and/or injury upon (the patient), a vulnerable person.”

This crime is punishable in Mississippi by a fine of up to $1,000 and a prison term of up to five years.

The worker’s attorney challenged the language in the indictment indicating she had “willfully, negligently and feloniously” injured the patient, insisting the indictment requires proof the accused purposely, knowingly or recklessly caused bodily injury to another and that such evidence was lacking. The state statute allows that a person who negligently inflicts bodily injury on another, and prosecutors insisted this met the criteria.

The circuit court sided with the defense, and dismissed the case, pointing to the indictment’s failure to state a cause of action against the defendant. The state appealed, and the state supreme court reversed, finding upon review the indictment was sufficient and the lower court judge had erred in dismissing the claim.

While it’s important to hold accountable those who fail to provide appropriate care to the aging and infirm, we believe that with proper training and the right resources, such incidents can be altogether avoided.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports nursing home falls are a major problem, but there are largely preventable. Implementing safe lifting practices is one way. In addition to increasing comfort and reducing falls for patients, such programs slashed resident-handling workers’ compensation claims by 61 percent, lost workday rates by 66 percent and restricted workdays by 38 percent.

The agency generally recommends against manual lifting altogether, except in cases of a life-threatening emergency. Instead, utilization of electronic lift equipment, when used properly, should significantly reduce patient falls and caregiver injuries.

Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
State of Mississippi v. Hawkins, Aug. 14, 2014, Mississippi Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Harmon v. Star Valley Med. Ctr. – Nursing Home Negligence Claim Arises From Fatal Fall, Aug. 2, 2014, Fort Lauderdale Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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