Whether you or a loved one suffers bedsores while staying in a hospital, nursing home, or assisted living facility, or suffers bedsores because of poor care in a hospital, you may find yourself looking for compensation.
Do you have the right to sue for bedsores? The short answer is yes: Bedsores primarily result from poor patient care or medical negligence. Usually, the question is “who bears liability to you.”
What Are Bedsores?
Bedsores, also known as pressure ulcers, occur due to prolonged pressure on the skin. Most often, bedsores develop over bony areas such as the tailbone, hips, heels and ankles, for example. Bedsores can also occur on the head, shoulders or lower back. They may also appear on the skin behind the knees, especially if the patient has specific support in that area.
Typically, bedsores occur in people who cannot easily move to change position themselves. In elderly, very sick or injured individuals, bedsores may develop because the patient is confined to bed and is unable to move or cannot move without considerable effort or significant pain. In most health care facilities, the nursing staff and healthcare assistants or certified aids are responsible for helping patients move to reduce the risk of bedsores.
Are Bedsores Preventable?
Yes. Most bedsores are preventable.
Skilled nursing care providers can prevent bedsores in their patients by providing patients with good daily skin care to reduce the risks. Bedsores develop due to prolonged pressure on a specific area of the skin, usually over a bony area. If the patient can move unassisted, the patient will usually naturally decrease the pressure on irritated skin, preventing bedsores. If the patient cannot move unassisted, on the other hand, the nursing staff will need to help move the patient to decrease the risk of bedsores and keep the patient more comfortable.
Bedsores can form within hours, especially in patients with other medical issues or skin conditions. However, in most cases, bedsores develop for prolonged pressure on the skin caused from days without moving or regularly turning and repositioning the patients.
Some patients have underlying factors which can substantially increase their risk of developing bedsores.
Healthcare providers should take steps to help reduce these risks factors for patient injury.
- Patients with incontinence. Prolonged exposure to urine or feces can decrease the skin’s natural elasticity and increase the odds that patients will develop pressure sores. To avoid this problem, health care staff members should regularly clean patients after they urinate or have bowel movements to decrease the risk of pressure sores and help keep the patient be more comfortable.
- Patients with mobility issues. For example, patients who are extremely ill, who are sedated or unconscious due to a medical condition can have difficulty changing positions without nursing assistance and may be unable to ask for help. If the nursing staff does not complete routine daily skin assessments and notice bed sores developing on these types of patients, the sore may deteriorate quickly without the steps necessary to prevent it. Such patients require additional medical care and treatment. If patients do not receive adequate skin care and appropriate wound care treatment, they can hold the staff and institution employing them responsible for these avoidable injuries.
- Poor nutrition. A lack of proper nutrition can cause skin to break down faster, which may increase a patient’s risks they will develop bedsores. Patients who have spent extended time in the hospital or a long-term care facility may have less motivation to eat properly, which can increase their risk of pressure sores.
Can I Hold a Health Care Facility Liable for Bedsores?
Usually, yes. Bedsores can cause significant pain for patients, many of whom already suffer from significant medical conditions or mobility limitations. In some cases, bedsores can lead to extreme complications: bone and joint infections, cellulitis and sepsis, which can lead to a patient’s death. While prompt appropriate care can help treat these injuries, once they develop, many pressure sores are difficult to heal.
To determine if the bedsores developed from nursing negligence, which would give you the right to sue for the resulting injuries, the investigation will likely focus on several key questions.
Was the patient totally dependent on the nursing or hospital staff for basic daily care and mobility?
A patient restricted to their bed because of underlying health issues, severe injuries or weakness may require continuous assistance from the nursing staff to turn and reposition to reduce pressure on their body. On the other hand, if a patient is capable of moving without nursing assistance, but develops a bedsore nonetheless, the patient and his family may have difficulty bringing a claim for those injuries.
How did the nursing staff respond to the bedsores?
After discovering a bedsore, the nursing staff should take immediate steps to notify the attending physician and family of the sore and develop a comprehensive plan of care to treat the wound. treat those bedsores and increase the odds that the patient will make a full recovery.
- First, the nursing staff should take note of the bedsore and offer medical care as needed.
- If observing a large sore, the nursing staff should notify a doctor and make sure that the patient receives appropriate treatment.
- Finally, the nursing staff should shift the patient to take pressure off of the sore and take care to move the patient more often to reduce the risk of further bedsores and injuries.
In some cases, however, the nursing staff may not take proper care of the patient’s bedsores, leading to further injury.
The nursing staff may, instead:
- Cover and try to hide the bedsore. To prevent others from noticing the bedsore, the nursing staff may try to cover it up with clothing and other items. They may not put on bandages or clean the wound properly, but may instead try to prevent others from noticing it.
- Ignore proper treatment. To treat bedsores, the nursing staff should clean the wound regularly, then put on a bandage. A barrier cream can help keep the wound moist and aid in the healing process. Unfortunately, some nursing staff may fail to properly treat bedsores in the patient, instead changing the bandages only when absolutely necessary and not using a barrier cream that can help improve healing and reduce future problems.
- Allow the wounds to become infected. If left untreated, bedsore wounds can quickly become infected, leaving the patient with even more serious concerns to deal with. If the nursing staff fails to treat the wounds or knowingly exposes the patient to bacteria that can lead to severe infection, the nursing staff may face consequences.
Any time the nursing staff fails to act in the patient’s best interest and provide high-quality treatment, including cases in which the nursing staff allows bedsores to develop or worsen, you may have grounds to file a medical malpractice claim.
Who Bears Liability for Bedsores?
You may know that you have the right to sue after you or a loved one suffers severe bedsores under the care of a skilled nursing facility, hospital, or long-term care facility, but who actually bears liability for those bedsores? Who bears liability may depend on several critical factors, including who bears responsibility for caring for the patient and the severity of the patient’s wounds.
Most often, individual nurses will not bear direct liability for damage to a patient, including bedsores. While they may face personal consequences internally, including job loss because of failing to properly care for a patient, you may not have the right to sue the nurse directly. However, you may have the right to pursue compensation through the facility.
In some cases, the facility’s standards and policies may lead to patient neglect, which can cause bedsores.
- Understaffing. Many facilities struggle with a lack of adequate staff. Sometimes, they deliberately fail to schedule enough staff to handle patient needs to cut costs. In other cases, the facility may simply not have adequate staff on hand to care for the patients’ needs.
- High turnover. In many facilities, patients require a high level of skilled care. It may require significant training to bring nursing staff members up to the level of care these patients need and deserve. Unfortunately, in many facilities, high turnover means that nursing staff often does not receive adequate training, or that staff members with little to no training will take on caregiving tasks for patients with high levels of need. Thus, they may suffer a higher risk of bedsores.
- Inadequate charting, reporting, or checks and balances. Nursing staff should have the ability to clearly and carefully report the needs of the patients they care for, including a patient at a high risk of developing pressure ulcers.
Unfortunately, some facilities’ policies make it difficult for nurses to keep up with the changing needs of their patients. Facilities also need a clear system of checks and balances to ensure oversight for all nursing staff members. Patients should not interact with only one nurse, but rather have the chance to interact with several staff members to meet their needs.
The Doctor Responsible for the Patient’s Care
Sometimes, doctors may bear liability for pressure ulcers or pressure ulcers that worsen in severity. Doctors, when presented with a patient with a pressure ulcer, must provide the high standard of care that patients deserve to prevent those injuries, reduce their severity, and help patients recover as much as possible.
A doctor who fails to properly treat a pressure sore, especially one who tries to ignore it and hopes that it will go away on its own, may bear liability for the suffering faced by the patient. In particular, the doctor may bear liability if the patient suffers substantial consequences or long-term damage due to ignoring a pressure sore.
A Staffing Company That Supplies Nurses to a Facility
In some cases, understaffed nursing facilities and hospitals may use staffing companies to provide nurses for their busiest shifts. These staffing companies may screen their own employees. Theoretically, they provide nurses with a reasonable level of training and experience—often nurses who prefer to work on a short-term basis or who do not want to work in other local facilities. In practice, they may hire inattentive, unqualified, or neglectful employees.
If an employee has a history of neglecting past patients, but the staffing company sends her out to a facility without adequate warning or continues to employ her after her negligence causes negative impacts, illnesses, or even death in other patients, the facility may bear liability for those actions.
Recovering Compensation for Bedsores: How Much Can You Expect?
If you or a loved one develop bedsores from negligence on the part of medical facility staff, contact an attorney as soon as possible to learn more about the compensation you deserve. Your compensation may depend on several factors.
The Severity of the Bedsore or Sores
In some cases, you may have relatively minor symptoms from a bedsore, usually from temporary confinement following a severe injury or procedure. In other cases, however, you may suffer severe symptoms, including large sores that take a long time to heal. If you have multiple bedsores or severe bedsores, you may have a long road to recovery ahead of you.
Treating bedsores can lead to additional medical costs during a time when you may already face a very tight budget. You can include the cost of treating those bedsores as part of a medical malpractice claim.
Limitations or Challenges Posed by the Bedsores
Did the bedsores impact your recovery? Did you suffer immense physical pain because of your bedsores? You can likely include those factors as part of a medical malpractice claim.
The Cost of Changing Facilities
After suffering severe bedsores, you may no longer have the ability to remain at a specific facility, or you might fear that the facility’s care will continue to deteriorate. If you need to change facilities to one that offers a higher level of care, you may have the right to include those costs as part of your medical malpractice claim.
Bedsores can add immense suffering to your existing injuries or challenges. A medical malpractice attorney can help you learn more about the compensation you deserve.