It was Christmas Day, and the just-turned-21-year-old nursing assistant, who had just received her professional license, was working yet another shift at the nursing home because the facility was short-staffed. She’d already worked Christmas Eve, but agreed to work Christmas Day too. When she got there at 7 a.m., she was asked to work a double shift, until 11 p.m.
Initially, she said she would. Such occurrences had been common at the facility since a for-profit company took over the once family-owned facility in Massachusetts. But then, something terrible happened.
She placed an 83-year-old patient into a mechanical lift to move her. But she didn’t have another staffer to assist her, as is required by policy and the machine’s manual. Her placement was improper, and the elderly woman fell to the floor. Both her legs were broken, though that was not immediately known. Ultimately, that injury would lead to the woman’s death two days later.
The victim, who previously had a career as a nurse and had even cared for nursing home patients herself, had told her family she didn’t want to go to the hospital on Christmas. The facility assured her that X-rays had shown she hadn’t broken any bones. But that actually wasn’t true, and no X-rays had been done at that point.
The patient was on blood-thinning medication, and the next day, complained of severe pain. It was only then that she was transported to the hospital, where doctors learned she had broken both legs and was bleeding internally. She died the following day in the hospital.
Two staffers, speaking to a reporter on the condition of anonymity, said that since the facility was sold to a for-profit firm, the place was chronically short-staffed.
State inspection records appear to back that assertion. The center has been cited for problems relating to an ill-maintained structure that includes clogged drains, cracked tiles and crumbling plaster throughout. There were also citations for staffers failing to follow protocol and using the wrong medical equipment – including catheters – for certain procedures. There have also been frequent reports of medication errors, pressure sores, poor infection control and inadequate training.
This is a company that owns nearly a dozen nursing homes in the state and is licensed to care for more than 1,200 patients.
State lawmakers in 2014 had pushed for the nursing home licensing process to become more transparent, but those changes didn’t take effect until December 2015 – which was enough time for this particular company to snap up licenses to operate four more nursing homes – including the one that allowed them to operate this facility.
Falls in nursing homes in general aren’t all that uncommon, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting 1,800 fatalities annually involving nursing home residents who have suffered a fall. But these incidents are largely preventable, and these figures aren’t acceptable.
What’s more, this particular center had double the number of average falls when compared to state and national figures. Statewide, 3 percent of residents had a fall resulting in major injury between 2013 and 2015. This particular facility’s rate was 6 percent.
There have been numerous other cases involving falls from mechanical lifts, some of which have resulted in injury or wrongful death lawsuit settlements and verdicts.
Many facilities advertise about the safety these lifts can bring to the process of moving patients. However, when you don’t have enough staff to properly operate it and you don’t provide proper training to the staff you have, they can cause more harm than good.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Death at Wilmington nursing home raises new questions, Jan. 19, 2016, By Kay Lazar, The Boston Globe
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