On Dec. 31, 2013, ProPublica released a comprehensive article about a troubled assisted living facility in McMinnville, Ore., most recently called Emeritus at Osprey Court. According to the article, this assisted living facility was the only one of 475 in 2013 against which Oregon licensing authorities took steps to revoke its license because of multiple of “regulatory violations.”
The story details incidents of violence and neglect against aging residents, including one in which the patient almost died, having lost 21 pounds in one month and been hospitalized with “respiratory failure, kidney failure, pneumonia, sepsis, and dehydration.”
Any of these conditions alone could potentially kill a frail, elderly person, but sepsis is often a death sentence to a nursing home patient.
Sepsis in long-term care facilities
Sepsis is a potentially fatal condition that happens when the body goes into overdrive to fight a bad infection. The human body releases certain compounds into the bloodstream to fight infection, but sometimes those chemicals can cause dangerous inflammation throughout body. Sepsis can cause organ failure, shock and death, unless treated aggressively in the early stages.
Sepsis is treated by hospitalization for intravenous fluids and antibiotics. If the source of the infection can be found, treatment may be tailored in response to the particular germ. In nursing home patients, a common reason for infection that can lead to sepsis is bedsores, also called pressure wounds, pressure ulcers, pressure sores and decubitus ulcers.
Bedsores in the elderly
Most Americans have heard of bedsores, but have no idea how serious they can be in elderly patients. As a source of sepsis, pressure wounds can be fatal, especially in older people whose health and immunity are already compromised.
Bedsores develop when a vulnerable place on the skin and the tissue underneath it begin to break down because of long-term pressure that restricts blood flow in a bed- or wheelchair-bound patient. The skin at a pressure point may also be weakened by friction and skin shearing when people are moved. Bony, less cushioned areas are vulnerable like hips, heads, heels, buttocks, tailbones, spines and ankles.
Other contributing factors include the thinning skin, loss of sensation, weight loss, poor nutrition, inadequate fluids, incontinence, poor circulation, spasms and more.
The duty of care
Nursing homes, long-term care facilities, assisted living homes and similar institutions need to have in place aggressive plans to prevent bedsores in elderly and disabled patients, many of whom are susceptible from the moment they arrive because they have limited ability to reposition their own bodies.
Staff must put patients on strict, regular repositioning schedules and conduct regular skin inspections to monitor for the early stages of pressure ulcers. Medical treatment and special equipment should be immediately ordered upon discovery.
At their worst, bedsores become gaping, open wounds with infected and dead tissue that reach down through layers of the body, even all the way to the bone. Sepsis can begin when the bacteria and germs enter the body through the broken skin in the pressure ulcer.
Unfortunately, stories like the one from McMinnville are easy to find in the media. Any Oregonian whose loved one in a nursing home suffers from bedsores possibly from neglect and inadequate care, whose family member has developed sepsis from a pressure wound or whose relative has died from these preventable conditions should speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. A lawyer who has handled Oregon nursing home injury cases can investigate and determine whether a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit may be appropriate.