Many people will experience long-term care in a hospital, nursing home, assisted living facility, rehabilitation center or another medical facility for themselves or a loved one. When you face extended periods under the care of medical professionals and facilities, you do so with the expectation that it will provide you or your loved one with the best possible care.
While treatment, medication, and therapy are all important components of your care, these facilities must address and take care of other circumstances while caring for you or a loved one. Proper care includes nutrition, proper hygiene, and the prevention of secondary infections or injuries. Pressure sores are a common injury for many individuals that find themselves in these long-term care environments. These painful sores are usually preventable and put the health of many people at risk.
What Is a Pressure Sore?
A pressure sore is an injury to the skin of an individual as well as the underlying tissue. This name is often interchangeable with terms such as bedsores, pressure ulcers and decubitus ulcers which describe the same injury resulting from extended pressure on certain areas of the body. While pressure sores can appear over a short time in some circumstances, most pressure sores develop over extended periods of neglect by inattentive health care providers.
Several signals can alert the team charged with you or your loved one’s care to avert a pressure sore, take action to treat them or prevent further damage. Unfortunately, failure in an individual’s care usually causes pressure sores.
What Causes a Pressure Sore?
Ultimately, it’s the negligence of caretakers.
Pressure sores occur when individuals are limited in their ability to move or change positions regularly on their own or with nursing assistance, and they exert extended pressure on certain parts of the body. This can be due to a handicap or disability making the individual wheelchair-bound or bedridden, or it can happen during a hospital stay or at a nursing home or rehabilitation center when a patient is immobile for long periods of time.
A complete plan of care should be developed to consider a patient’s specific needs . This includes techniques to combat pressure sores, such as routine turning and positioning, the examination of the patient’s skin daily, proper hygiene and nutrition. Any delay or neglect in these requirements of the overall care of the patient’s skin can result in the development of pressure sores and can lead to unnecessary pain, suffering and complications including life-threatening conditions.
What Are the Beginning Signs of a Pressure Sore?
Pressure sores do not happen in an instant. Prolonged pressure on the body causes these sores. Sometimes it can take a few hours and other times it can take days. Early signs can indicate an imminent pressure sore. Staff must recognize them and take immediate action to prevent or treat the sore. An attentive and qualified nursing or medical team can identify these at-risk conditions and adapt a patient’s care plan to prevent pressure sores from deteriorating and becoming worse.
Early warning signs of a pressure sore include:
- Changes in color or texture of the skin, patches of skin changing in color from red, to purple or bluish hue to black.
- Tender, painful, or itchy areas of the body.
- Swelling or drainage from the affected area.
- Unusually warm or cold areas of the body compared to other surrounding skin.
Stages of Pressure Sores
Not every pressure sore is equal in severity or extent of damage to the body. Medically, pressure sores are distinguished based on their depth as well as their severity of damage to the skin and surrounding tissue. Each sore is staged from one to four.
What Areas of the Body Are Most Susceptible to Pressure Sores?
While bedsores can happen anywhere on the body, certain body parts are more prone to these sores. This includes areas subjected to sustained pressure due to the body’s position in a wheelchair or bed, and on bony parts of the body.
Common body areas at risk of developing pressure sores include:
- Buttock area
- Hip bone area
- Elbows, heels and ankles
- Back of the head
What Individuals Are at Highest Risk of Developing Pressure Sores?
Patients who cannot move about by themselves are at the highest risk of developing pressure sores. These individuals must rely on their nurses and care team to monitor their body and turn and position them at least every two hours to avoid the development of these painful sores. When a nurse or staff member fails to follow through with routine daily skin care, a patient is much more likely to develop an avoidable pressure sores. If the staff fails to address a pressure sore quickly and effectively, further complications can develop.
Patients at high risk of developing pressure sores include:
- Individuals confined to a bed following an injury, illness or surgical procedure.
- Individuals who are unconscious and confined to a bed due to an injury, illness or following a surgical procedure.
- The elderly, especially those who have lost mobility and are limited to a wheelchair or bed.
- Patients with any form of paralysis, who can’t move or feel when these sores might be developing.
- Extremely obese individuals with limited mobility.
- Individuals with poor hydration or nutrition.
- Patients suffering from circulatory conditions.
Can Pressure Sores Be Prevented?
Yes. Most pressure sores are completely avoidable.
While many in the medical community may argue that pressure sores are inevitable for some patients, the reality is that more often than not, following a comprehensive care plan and strategy for patients most susceptible to these injuries can prevent pressure sores. Under the current Medicare guidelines, hospitals and rehabilitation facilities are no longer reimbursed for the additional medical care required to treat a pressure sore as the government has determined that the development of a bed sore is a “never event” which should not occur with proper care and treatment.
With proper tools and resources such as specialized equipment, routine turning and positioning, evaluation of the patient’s skin integrity and a focus on nutrition and circulation, it is possible to prevent pressure sores on patients in long-term care facilities and hospitals. A failure in any of these steps can contribute to a patient’s unnecessary deterioration and development of sores which can be very difficult to treat once they have occurred.
How Common Are Pressure Sores?
Pressure sores are pervasive in patients with limited mobility both at home and in medical facilities. More than 2.5 million people each year develop pressure sores. This not only puts the patient’s overall health at risk (including serious secondary infections) but subjects them to unnecessary pain, suffering and expensive medical treatment. Pressure sores also require an enormous amount of time and resources by the medical community to effectively manage and treat. It would be in the best interest of patients and medical providers to make more of an effort in prevention tactics than the treatment of pressure sores.
What Are the Dangers of Pressure Sores?
Besides the pain and discomfort to the patient suffering from a pressure sore injury, they are also at increased risk of developing serious complications including life-threatening conditions. A pressure sore can lead to chain reactions that can deteriorate an individual’s overall health and comfort. Some pressure sores can heal over a short time, but severe pressure sores can take months if not years to heal properly while some may never fully heal and require lifelong care and management.
A pressure sore places additional strain on a person’s body, which can lead to several complications:
- Skin infections such as cellulitis.
- Infections of bone and joints such as osteomyelitis.
- Blood poisoning such as septicemia.
- Death of surrounding tissue or necrotizing fasciitis.
Can a Pressure Sore Lead to Death?
Yes, especially if it is improperly controlled or managed. An untreated sore can cause fatal conditions like sepsis. It is not rare for an individual to die from a pressure sore, if not treated aggressively and appropriately. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates that about 60,000 patients die each year due to the development of a pressure sore.
Are Pressures Sores a Sign of Neglect?
Yes. You entrust your care or your loved one’s health to these providers and staff with the understanding that they will take care of their patients responsibly and professionally. Unfortunately, injuries can happen whenever a loved one is under the care of a medical facility. Pressure sore injuries are common, but in most cases, staff can prevent them through proper daily skin treatment. When pressure sores happen, negligence is usually the cause.
Long-term care facilities and hospitals are often chaotic environments with sometimes limited staff and many patients requiring care. If staff overlook or delays patient care, pressure sores can develop quickly. In many cases, this is attributed to negligence on the part of the health care provider or facility, responsible for the patient’s care.
Can You Sue a Nursing Home, Hospital, or Other Medical Facility for Damage from Pressure Sores?
When the negligence of a staff member or facility contributes in any way to the development of a pressure sore in a patient, that patient may seek compensation for their injuries. As a patient of a facility or provider, there is a certain expectation of reasonable care. When the responsibilities of a patient’s care fall short, it could be determined to be the result of the negligence of those providers. Under the law, patients can seek compensation for injuries that occur in medical-related cases when providers act negligently. Pressure sores can be evidence of negligence, especially where they recur or reach a severe stage when discovered.
What Damages Can You Recover for Pressure Sore Injuries?
Pressure sores are painful injuries that can affect a person’s health and quality of their daily life. When you suffer from a pressure sore, you can require extensive medical treatment as well as specialized equipment to help prevent the worsening of your condition or the return of the sores. This additional medical care is often very expensive.
In addition, patients that suffer from pressure sores require around-the-clock care and monitoring to prevent further damage and deterioration.
Common damages in a pressure sore injury case include:
- Medical expenses
- Specialized medical equipment required for treatment
- Home health care and wound care costs
- Lost income or ability to earn income
- Pain and suffering related to the pressure sore and complications
- Impacts on the quality of life of a patient
- Damages related to a loved one’s wrongful death
What Should You Do if You Develop Pressure Sores While in a Hospital, Nursing Home, or Under Other Medical Care?
If you or a loved one has developed a pressure sore injury while in a hospital, long-term care facility or rehabilitation center, first ensure that the patient is currently receiving the proper care necessary to treat these injuries and prevent them from becoming worse. At that point, it is important that you contact a medical malpractice attorney to discuss your pressure sore case and your legal options to seek the compensation deserved for these “never event” avoidable injuries.