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With Patients Increasingly Isolated, Florida Nursing Home Negligence Concerns Rise

nursing home negligenceNursing home residents are one of the most vulnerable populations even in the best of circumstances. Currently, as the country is grappling with a global pandemic, nursing home residents are not only more susceptible to catching and succumbing to the virus, there is also a higher potential risk for nursing home negligence.

As our Fort Myers nursing home injury lawyers can explain, skilled nursing facilities have a legal duty to protect the elderly and vulnerable adults in their care. They do this in many ways, ranging from properly vetting employees to ensuring there is an adequate overview of care to stocking necessary supplies and medications. It also means having clear procedures in place for halting the spread of infectious disease and swiftly treating those who fall ill.

More than 7,300 nursing home patients in 19 states have died of COVID-19 since the outbreak was first reported in the U.S., but the reality is that infectious disease in long-term care facilities has been a problematic issue for years. Many patients in nursing homes and rehab centers are physically frail and their immune systems may be severely compromised. Nursing homes are responsible for developing disease prevention protocol and for enforcing it. Failure to do so, resulting in a serious or even fatal infection, may be grounds for litigation.

Knowing this, many nursing homes, in response to COVID-19, were quick to enact strict isolation measures restricting all in-person visitations. It was a painful but necessary move for most facilities. Still, it should not be overlooked that one of the key risk factors in Florida nursing home negligence, neglect, and abuse cases is lack of contact with family members and friends. That is because when loved ones are not around to observe the signs of neglect or abuse and speak up about concerns, it may go undiscovered for far longer.

Another risk factor in nursing home neglect cases is inadequate staffing. Many nursing homes are already understaffed as it is. If nursing home staff members fall ill and are forced to self-quarantine for two weeks or more, that could further compound an already existing staff shortage.

Types of Nursing Home Neglect

There are four general types of neglect most commonly reported in Florida nursing homes. These include:

  • Medical neglect. If nursing home staff fail to properly attend to medical needs, address medical issues, or use reasonable care in prescribing and dispensing medications, it can lead to serious issues. Complications may include bedsores/pressure sores, mobility issues, malnutrition, infections, and more.
  • Basic needs neglect. Patients who are not provided with adequate food, clean water, or a sanitary, safe environment are not having their basic needs met. This can result in severe dehydration, malnutrition, weakened immune systems, and infection.
  • Personal hygiene neglect. This occurs when a patient is denied assistance with maintaining their basic hygiene, including brushing their teeth/dental care, bathing, and laundry. This can lead to infections, bedsores/pressure sores, and other issues.
  • Emotional/social neglect. A skilled living facility resident who is constantly and excessively left alone, ignored, or denied adequate emotional and social care may become deeply depressed. This is a big challenge right now, as it may not be safe for residents to gather even in small groups.

COVID-19 has been identified as being an especially contagious and particularly dangerous virus. Nursing homes have a responsibility to take this seriously and prevent the spread of infection. Many are doing that with isolation measures. But if possible, family and loved ones should try to maintain regular contact through other means, such as phone or video calls. This will not only help ward off the emotional effects of isolation, but it may also alert them to possible signs of neglect and the need for intervention.

Nursing Home Accountability for Negligence, Violation of Rights

To prove negligence in a Florida lawsuit against a nursing home, an attorney must establish:

  • The nursing home owed a duty of care to the resident;
  • That duty was breached;
  • The breach caused damages.

We can also establish liability by proving a violation of a patient’s rights, as listed in Chapter 400 of Florida statutes. These provisions outline both patients’ rights and nursing home providers’ duties. F.S. Ch. 400.023 specifically allows nursing home residents or their representatives to file a civil lawsuit for violation of their rights.

In the past, Ch. 400 claims involving a deceased patient could only be filed, if the resident’s death was caused by a Ch. 400 violation. In other words, if the nursing home patient was abused or neglected but then died of an unrelated cause, the claim died with them. This gave negligent nursing homes an easy out if they were “lucky enough” for the patient to die of unrelated causes.

Fortunately, the law was later updated, allowing a resident’s rights claim to survive the resident, however, there are still some limits on the type of damages that can be collected.

Unlike a typical wrongful death case, personal representative plaintiffs in Ch. 400 claims can collect damages for a decedent’s pre-death pain and suffering. However, they can only pursue either wrongful death damages or survivor damages, but not both.

Our experienced Fort Myers nursing home negligence lawyers can explain more about the nuances and types of claims that can be filed, as well as by whom and how much a specific claim may be worth.

If you or a loved one are injured in the greater South Florida area, contact our injury attorneys at The Garvin Firm at 800.977.7017 for a free initial consultation.

Additional Resources:

Florida Statutes, Chapter 400, Nursing Homes and Related Health Care Facilities

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