Nursing Home Resident Dies From Improper Care
We represented the family of Nancy, an 83-year-old woman who died following her admission to a nursing home. Nancy had complex chronic medical problems but she had been able to successfully live in her own home with the support of her family and professional caregivers. Unfortunately, she developed some intense back pain and lost the ability to move around her home. She was admitted to the hospital where she was diagnosed with compression fractures in her back. Her primary care physician recommended to the family that Nancy go temporarily to a skilled nursing facility where her pain would be managed and where she could regain strength and mobility through physical therapy.
When Nancy arrived at the facility, her pain medication patches began to go missing. Due to her unmanaged pain levels, she was unable to participate in physical therapy and her condition declined. Later, when it was determined that there was a medication thief on staff and her pain patches were restored, she was not reassessed and the physical therapy was not resumed. Records from the facility reflect that she was not receiving adequate food, skin care, hygiene, or restorative therapy. The family visited frequently and tried to provide the care that the caregivers did not seem to have the time to do. Nancy began to “fail to thrive” and she soon died. It was the nursing home’s position that the only harm that Nancy potentially suffered as a result of its negligence was increased pain for a brief period of time and that her decline was not a result of its negligence but a natural progression of her chronic conditions.
What the family did not know until after their mother’s death is that the facility had knowingly hired a nursing assistant who was convicted of a drug crime. The family also did not know until we filed a case that the facility did not do an adequate background check before hiring this employee. Had that been done, the facility would have learned that she had been fired from two recent caregiver positions for a positive drug test and falling asleep on the job. Nor did the family learn until the case was filed that the facility knew that drug thefts were occurring but had chosen not to report the crimes to Adult Protective Services or law enforcement until it had done its own investigation. Fortunately, a facility employee caught the nursing assistant red-handed and contacted Adult Protective Services.
After the facility rejected offers of settlement, the family brought claims against the facility and the nursing assistant, including claims for negligent hiring, supervision, and care, Elder Abuse under Oregon Revised Statute 124.100, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The case was tried before a three arbitrator panel and involved a multi-day hearing. The arbitration panel determined that the facility was negligent in its care of Nancy, that the nursing assistant committed Elder Abuse, and found in favor of Nancy’s family with an arbitration decision against the facility for damages and attorney fees.
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