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Nursing Home Negligence

FALLS: ORDINARY NEGLIGENCE

Many people assume that accidents and injuries that occur in nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities are due to medical malpractice or nursing errors. Actions such as dispensing the wrong medications or not dispensing medications at all, or failing to properly monitor a patient's status if they are ill are examples of liability most likely to be pursued as medical malpractice claims. However, many actions giving rise to liability in the nursing home and skilled nursing care setting are instances of ordinary negligence. In fact, slip and fall accidents are one of the biggest problems facing residents in these settings. According to the Centers for Disease Control, skilled nursing facilities report 100-200 falls every year, and it is estimated that between one-half and three-quarters of residents in nursing homes fall every year. Many residents fall repeatedly, resulting in an average of slightly over 2 falls per resident per year. Although a "fall" connotes an accident that occurs while walking, 35% of fall injuries occur among residents who cannot walk, meaning that these residents fall from beds, wheel chairs, toilet seats, etc.

The severity of the problem cannot be overstated. Statistics show that approximately 1,800 people living in nursing homes die from falls each year, and approximately 10-20% of nursing home falls cause serious injuries.

CAUSES OF FALLS

The biggest cause of falls in skilled care and nursing home settings has to do with the condition of the residents themselves. The underlying medical conditions of residents often cause muscle weakness and require medications that can cause dizziness and slow reflexes, all of which contribute to falls. Falls from these kinds of issues account for 24% of all nursing home falls.

But the next biggest cause of falls in skilled care settings is the condition of the environment surrounding the residents. These falls account for between 16-27% of all falls in the skilled care setting. Often referred to as environmental hazards, these fall risks include wet floors, inadequate lighting, incorrect bed height, improperly fitted or maintained wheelchairs or assistance devices, etc. While the consequences of the medical conditions of the residents may not be attributable to the facilities where they live, the consequences of the conditions of the environment certainly are; put another way, facilities are liable for falls caused by environmental hazards.

Every facility has a duty to its residents and their visitors to be free of environmental hazards. If that duty is breached--if a faucet is leaking onto the floor, if a light bulb is out in a hallway, or if the lock on a wheelchair fails to work--and harm comes to someone because of that breach, then a case of negligence may be brought.

OMNIBUS BUDGET RECONCILIATION ACT OF 1987

The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987, known as the Nursing Home Reform Act, set out to address many pressing quality of care issues in nursing and skilled care facilities. At the 20th anniversary of the Act in 2007, progress in key areas was noted: better training for staff, less use of physical restraints, implementation of care plans. However, inadequate quality of care largely due to understaffing was identified as still being a problem.

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of OBRA '87, it is more important than ever that the goals of the Act be furthered. Residents of care facilities are entitled to protection from neglect and abuse, to quality of care, and freedom from environmental hazards that lead to accidents. OBRA '87 requires facilities that receive reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid to be in compliance with federal regulations at 42 CFR Part 483. Sub part (h) of these regulations requires that: the resident environment remain as free of accident hazards as possible; and that each resident receive adequate supervision and assistance devices to prevent accidents.

Therefore, harm caused by environmental hazards and inadequate staffing can be negligence due to a breach of duty of care owed by the facility to its residents, and/or due to noncompliance with federal regulations.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If your loved one has been injured or suffered neglect in a nursing home or skilled nursing facility, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
Located at 945 East Paces Ferry Road, Resurgens Plaza, GA 30326.

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