The need for change and accountability in the nursing home industry
$2.1m partial settlement reached in nursing home transportation case
A few weeks ago, a partial settlement was reached for a family who lost a mother and wife because of an understaffed and undertrained nursing home. I handled the case with attorney Craig Schlapprizzi who is a close friend of mine and former college teammate. After we were retained, we learned through an investigation that the nursing home asked a person who had no training to transport a patient from the home to a physician’s office. The home was understaffed. The person they instructed to transport the patient was trained as a maintenance person and had no training in transporting patients. The law required the driver of this transport van to have a valid commercial driver’s license and he did not have one. Our client was seriously injured when she fell from her wheelchair in the transport van because she had not been properly secured. The case was partially settled for $2.1 million. As a lawyer, I always hope that my advocacy for a current client helps make things safer for others. My hope is that a settlement of this size will change the behavior of the at-fault nursing home as well as many others who become aware of it. Recently released statistics and another similar call I received last week, however, gives me concern that are more injuries and deaths at nursing homes related to poor care than we are aware.
Similar facts and a different victim
Last week, I received another call from a daughter of an elderly woman who broke her neck in a transport van because of a careless and likely undertrained and inexperienced person who oversaw her care. This call was from a different family, but the facts were nearly the same as the case I partially settled earlier this year. A hospital discharged a patient to a nursing home that was less than two miles away and released its patient to a transport company that had only been in business for three weeks. The driver failed to secure the wheelchair in the transport van, got lost on the way to the nursing home, and the elderly woman broke her neck when her wheelchair tipped over during the drive.
Daily payroll records uncover understaffed nursing homes
Recent nursing home data analyzed by Kaiser Health News confirms that nursing homes are not honest about their staffing. The newly analyzed data was released as a result of a new rating system implemented by Medicare.
For years, Medicare used a rating system based on unverified reports produced and supplied by nursing homes. The self-reports were easy to falsify. Just recently, Medicare began using daily payroll records to rate nursing homes. The data was compiled from 14,000 care facilities and 7 in 10 showed fewer staff than previously reported. The new data shows that the average home had 12% fewer staff than they reported. There were many instances where staff levels dropped by 50% on weekends and holidays, doubling the ratio of patients to staff.
Profits over people
Corporations, including nursing homes, are concerned with profits. Hiring fewer people with less experience and shorter training programs is cost effective. Nursing homes, however, are not selling a product; they are trusted with the health and safety of patients. Patients in nursing homes are the most vulnerable in our society and require adequately staffed facilities and properly trained people to receive safe care. Not surprisingly, homes with fewer staff are correlated with more health code violations and a lower level of care for patients. The recent data released by Medicare highlights one of the most significant underlying problems with nursing home care. There are over 1.4 million people in nursing homes throughout the United States and we need to do more as a society to raise the bar to protect our most vulnerable.