The most-recent federal census of nursing homes in the United States showed 1.3 million Americans living in long-term care facilities. These patients were primarily older than 70, and their principle health concerns fell into the broad categories of anemia, arthritis and osteoporosis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia (including Alzheimer disease), depression, diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease and respiratory ailments.
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Many people who require nursing home care suffer from multiple chronic, disabling conditions. They may require around-the-clock care, or they may be able to do some self-care while still needing assistance with getting in and out of bed, bathing and keeping self-administered medications straight. Demands on doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other staff in nursing are high. So are the chances for making errors or neglecting the needs of patients.
Sadly, even with the best and most-attentive care, elderly nursing home patients die at a high rate. One study published in 2018 found the average life expectancy for a person following admission to a long-term care facility to be 2.2 years. These deaths are usually ascribed to disease complications or natural causes, but some percentage also result from neglect and abuse.
Avoidable falls, medication errors, malnutrition, dehydration and even assaults take a terrible tool on the most-vulnerable members of our society. The problems can be easy to miss or conceal for two reasons.
First, people expect seniors to die in nursing homes. Added to this, many of the signs and symptoms of nursing home abuse and neglect mirror the problems of aging. Did a loved one fall because muscles weaken and reflexes slow with age, or did a staff member lash out in anger? Was a loved one simply confused and forgetful, or did health care providers inappropriately prescribe and administer high doses of antipsychotics simply to keep the patient docile?
Such questions often go unanswered by families who conclude that it was just their relative’s “time.” Negligent and abusive nursing home personnel may count on such assumptions.
As Virginia wrongful death attorneys, my colleagues and I stand ready to investigate concerns that a family member suffered needlessly before passing away too soon. We are willing to do the hard work of subpoenaing nursing home records and to arrange for an independent autopsy. Most of all, we will fight to hold negligent or abusive facilities and staff accountable.