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Nursing home patient dies of baseball-sized bedsore; family wins $3.2 million judgment

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A Colorado jury just awarded an 88-year old man’s family $3.2 million, because nursing home staff at Pioneer Healthcare Center didn’t tell anyone about his baseball-sized bedsore until it was too late.

The patient, Frazier, was admitted to the nursing home in 2009 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which causes tremors and difficulty with movement and coordination. Before developing the bedsore, Frazier could walk to the cafeteria with assistance. Post-bedsore, he confined himself to his bed, and stopped eating, drinking, walking, and talking.

Once a nurse’s aide, who was afraid of being fired, finally told Frazier’s son, Mark, about the infected bedsore on the man’s buttocks and scrotum, Mark insisted that his father be taken to a hospital. Incredibly, the nursing home replied that Frazier should be treated there.

Ultimately, Frazier did go to a hospital but died of malnourishment and dehydration. Since then, Colorado’s Health Department has cited Pioneer Healthcare Center for 27 deficiencies. Surveyors can cite any number of 190 deficiencies in categories like quality of care, dietary services, infection control, quality of life, and rehabilitative services. Among other indiscretions, Pioneer was cited for the following between March 2008 and November 2011:

  • failing to make sure the nursing home area was free of dangers that could cause accidents;
  • not providing needed housekeeping and maintenance;
  • not providing three meals daily at regular times; not serving breakfast within 14 hours after dinner; or not offering a snack at bedtime.
  • failing to ensure that residents taking drugs weren’t given too many doses; 2) failing to ensure drug use was observed; or 3) failing to change drugs causing side effects.
  • not providing that built or maintained a resident’s dignity and self-respect; and
  • failing to tell the doctor and a family member if a resident was injured and/or if there was a major change in a resident's physical or mental health.

According to a 2008 Health and Human Services report, a median of 91 percent of surveyed nursing homes were cited in the three preceding years. That’s a 10 percent spike from 1998. Worse, the number of deficiencies cited per nursing home increased as well.

Of course, the percentage of nursing homes with deficiencies and the number of deficiencies per nursing home varies widely from state to state. In Colorado, the percentage rose from 95 in 2005 to 96.6 in 2007. Here in Ohio, 86.1 percent were cited in 2005 and 87.4 percent were cited in 2007. More recently, USA Today issued a rating report based on Medicare and Medicaid Services analysis in which three of Cleveland’s nursing homes were rated as “consistently bad.”

If you’re considering moving a relative into a nursing home, Medicare.gov offers a nursing home comparison checker. If you already have a relative in a nursing home, be sure to look out for bedsores, which are caused by pressure and lack of movement. Exposure to urine can make them worse. An untreated bedsore can lead to infection or gangrene that can cause death or amputation.

If you suspect your relative is being neglected or abused, talk to the nurses, talk to the doctors, talk to your Department of Health, or contact an experienced nursing home negligence attorney.