Residents of hospitals and nursing homes are often frail, with poor mobility. As a result, they often spend long hours in the same position in bed or in a wheelchair. They can develop painful and dangerous bedsores, also called pressure sores. The medical term for bedsores is decubitus ulcers.
Bedsores in a hospital or nursing home patient can be a sign of neglect or even abuse. This is especially true when the patient had no bedsores at the time of admission. Bedsores are painful, take a long time to heal, and often lead to life-threatening complication such as skin and bone infections.
According to the Center for Disease Control, 11 percent of nursing home patients have at least one bedsore.
What Is a Bedsore?
Bedsores are lesions in the skin that are the result of constant pressure on bony parts of the body like the tailbone, shoulder blades, spine, back of the head, hips, ankles, elbows and heels. Pressure on these areas decreases the flow of blood and oxygen, which causes the tissue to die.
Bedsores are most common in people suffering from paralysis, dementia, old age, poor nutrition or poor circulation. There are four stages of bedsores, ranging from a persistent area of red skin in stage 1 to often lethal deep lesions that reach the bone in stage 4.
Prevention Is Required
Federal regulations are particularly stringent about preventing, documenting and treating bedsores.
Nursing homes and hospitals are obligated by law to identify individuals at risk for bedsores. They must create and implement a “care plan” to prevent bedsores from appearing or worsening. Nurses’ aides, who assist patients with personal care, must be well-educated and alert to the possibility of bedsores. Unfortunately, many nursing homes are understaffed.
Hospitals and nursing homes can prevent the formation of bedsores by frequent inspections and by regularly turning and repositioning residents to relieve constant pressure on certain areas of the body. They can use pressure-relieving devices such as special mattresses, beds, heel protectors and boots.
Treatment Is Required
Most stage 1 and stage 2 bedsores will heal with conservative treatment. More advanced cases call for debridement (mechanical, enzymatic or surgical), where the damaged, dead or infected tissue is removed and dressings applied. In the most serious cases, reconstruction is required. This surgery has one of the highest complication rates of any surgery, and recovery is long and difficult.
Vigilance Is Necessary
If you have a loved one in a nursing home, hospital or other care facility, check that person’s skin condition, weight and general care every time you visit. If you notice any sign of bedsores or neglect, alert the nursing staff and attending physician or nursing home director immediately. Be persistent, and carefully document your efforts to have this issue addressed. Ask to see patient records.
Call a Medical Malpractice Lawyer
When a nursing home resident develops bedsores due to staff negligence, legal action should be taken. The law surrounding bedsores in nursing home residents can be complicated, plus the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. It is not legal advice. For more detailed information that is specific to your situation, please contact a medical malpractice lawyer.