There is nothing more agonizing to a family than making the decision to place a loved one in a nursing home, assisted living, or memory care. The fear of having your loved one suffer an injury or dying in a nursing home has been heightened in recent times with the COVID-19 pandemic, where we have seen numerous outbreaks of the virus in nursing homes with people being forced to say good-bye to their loved ones through glass windows over cell phones. In Georgia, our elderly family members, parents, and grandparents are some of the most vulnerable members of society who deserve to be protected when we entrust nursing homes with their lives. Unfortunately, it is too often that nursing homes are understaffed, staffed with unqualified employees, or lack the adequate policies and procedures and cause their elderly patients to suffer from falls, bed sores, COVID-19, abuse, or other injuries.
Like any personal injury claim, nursing home claims are based on the carelessness or negligence of the nursing home and/or its employees causing an injury or death to the patient. Proving up a claim involves showing that the nursing home and/or its employees breached the standard of care (what would a reasonable nursing home in the same shoes would have done in the situation?) and that breach caused the patient to suffer from injuries. These standards must be established by an “expert” who is willing to sign an affidavit as to how the nursing home breached the standard of care. In the context of a nursing home, there are protocols that should be followed to protect patients from becoming injured, and every case is different.
For example, where a patient is considered a fall risk due to weakness, disease, inability to walk, or for any other reason, the facility should take precautions, such as identifying the fall risk, using bed rails, instructing the patient to not get out of bed without help, and turning on bed alarms to reduce the risk of falling.
Or, where there is abuse of a nursing home patient, showing that the facility failed to take appropriate measures to prevent such an occurrence could include screening, monitoring, and training employees, identifying risks from other patients, and conducting background checks on potential employees.
With regard to the outbreaks of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes, it is probably too early to determine exactly what polices and procedures should have reasonably been in place to prevent rampant infections in nursing homes. It would probably be reasonable to expect a nursing home to implement policies (1) requiring employees to where personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves, and gowns; (2) prohibiting visitors from entering the facilities; (3) quarantining infected patients in different areas of the facility; (4) implementing strict protocols for hand-washing; and, (5) preventing patients from congregating with one another. Whether nursing homes should have had these protocols in place probably also depend on when the outbreaks occurred and when each nursing home should have known to implement protective measures. For example, in Georgia, the realization that the pandemic was a real threat did not come until March 2020, and it was not until April 2, 2020 that the governor issued the shelter-in-place order. Proving when a nursing home knew or should have known about the risk of an outbreak in the facility would depend on the circumstances overall. Just like the other types of injuries, facts are important in these types of cases.
Finally, just as in all personal injury cases, a claimant must prove that there are injuries. A lot of times, this can be challenging, as elderly folks in nursing homes often have prior health issues that cause them to become sick or have prior similar injuries anyway. Or, in the case of death, the defense can argue that the victim was going to die anyway or try to diminish the value of his/her life. Obviously, that is an awful perspective to take, as every life is meaningful, and, arguably, more meaningful toward the end of one’s life when there is not a lot of time left to spend with loved ones. And, where an already sick or weak person is severely injured, there is arguably more pain and suffering, more difficulty with healing, and a higher likelihood of permanency as to the injury.
As you can see, there are many ways that nursing homes can fail its patients and their families. With nursing home cases, each case is different and requires the expertise of medical and legal professionals. If you or a loved one wishes to pursue a claim against a nursing home or other facility, please call The Davis Injury Firm at 404-593-2620 to speak to an attorney about your case.
About the Author Betty Nguyen Davis is an Atlanta attorney who solely focuses her practice on plaintiff’s personal injury work. Betty is consistently recognized by her peers as a top attorney in Georgia by Super Lawyers and Georgia Trend and is highly recommended by her clients as a aggressive and persistent, yet caring and accessible attorney.