Dangerous, Unsanitary Conditions Create Hazards for Nursing Home Residents

Unsanitary Conditions in Nursing HomesWhen we think of our loved one in a nursing home, we imagine them receiving the day-to-day care they deserve, but there are many dangerous conditions that relatives and friends of the resident need to pay attention to. All may not be as well as it seems with your loved one.

Initially you need to realize a high percentage of nursing homes in the U.S. lack adequate staff to properly care for their patients. Some staff members have no first aid or fire drill training or psychological training even though they are caring for residents with psychological problems. Some smoke in areas where they are not permitted to. Many patients receive only an average of 3.7 hours of direct nursing care per day and some get even less.

Other dangerous situations in the nursing home that can result in neglect-related injuries, illnesses and infections include:

  • Failure to monitor disabled or handicapped patients
  • Failure to install adequate lighting throughout the facility
  • Failure to remedy tripping hazards in a timely manner
  • Failure to replace old or defective walking aids
  • Failure to install necessary hand and bed railings
  • Failure to promptly address a patient’s medical needs or giving a person the wrong dose of a medication, or the wrong medication. Americans aged 75 years and older take an average of more than 11 different drugs a year. A 2010 study by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) found that some caregivers were giving patients drugs they had not been prescribed or higher doses of ones they were being given in order to subdue their behavior. In some cases the pharmacists were given “kickbacks” from the drug companies to prescribe the medicines. A Families USA study reported that seniors comprise about 13% of the population, but take more than one third of filled prescriptions.
  • Drug interactions and side effects are other things that should be monitored. If you observe unusual fatigue, exhaustion, disorientation, confusion, forgetfulness, oversleeping, taking frequent naps, unusual withdrawal from family and social visits, unexplained medical and/or physical complications, start investigating the cause.

Sometimes there is physical evidence that your loved one may be in danger. Of course, if you believe the resident is in immediate danger, call 911 or call the local police. Take pictures if possible. Additional warning signs of danger include:

  • Bedsores
  • Mysterious bruises or other injuries like broken bones
  • Foul odors in the room or poor hygiene
  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Your loved one is telling you something different about his or her care than staff members are reporting
  • Nursing home staff seems to be blocking you from communicating with your loved one
  • Injuries or other medical conditions go unreported by staff

Temperatures can also be a problem

Other difficulties can stem from excessive heat or extreme cold and are sometimes deadly concerns. Heat-related issues are more dangerous due to medical conditions and the fact that elderly people generally have a decrease in perspiration that prevents the body’s natural mechanism of self-cooling. Other residents take medications that decrease the body’s ability to monitor temperature. Diuretics decrease the storage of body fluids and illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, heart conditions and strokes present even more challenges to an elderly patient’s self-regulatory cooling mechanism.

The three deadliest concerns to the elderly in warm weather are:

  • Heat stress – This causes excessive trauma on the body of the elderly, especially the heart, as it strains to keep the body temperature regulated. Symptoms of heat stress include decreased appetite, listlessness, dizziness, racing heartbeat, cramps, darker urine, diarrhea, vomiting and possible delirium.
  • Heat stroke — The most severe heat-related trauma. The body becomes unable to control its temperature as the temperature rises rapidly. The individual cannot perspire and cool themselves. Body temperature may rise to 100 degrees or higher in 10 minutes causing death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
  • Dehydration — A dangerous lack of water in the body caused by inadequate intake or excessive loss of fluids through sweating, vomiting or diarrhea. Neurological complications can occur such as seizures, headaches, decreased blood pressure, dizziness and fainting, delirium and possible unconsciousness. The natural thirst sensation decreases after age 50. Dehydration along with hypothermia can result in sudden death in extremely hot weather.

Extreme cold also causes many risks to the nursing home population. These include broken bones from falls and a high risk of hypothermia because the body’s response to cold is often diminished by certain illnesses and some medicines including over-the-counter cold remedies. Hypothermia occurs when a person’s body temperature drops below normal and stays low for a prolonged period and the body’s ability to endure long periods of exposure to cold is lowered.

Hypothermia can be identified by confusion or sleepiness, slowed or slurred speech, shivering, stiffness in the arms or legs, weak pulse, poor control over body movements or slower reaction time. It can be deadly if not treated quickly.

In dealing with temperature fluctuations:

  • Nursing home operators should have backup plans to deal with loss of air conditioning or heat in their facilities and have maintenance people available to remedy problems as soon as possible.
  • Conditions of patients, especially higher risk residents, should be monitored in extreme temperatures.
  • It is important to check on the whereabouts of patients, especially if there are wanderers who decide “to get some air” and find themselves in extreme heat or extremely cold temperatures that pose a hazard to their well-being.

Unsanitary living is another danger

Failure to provide safe housing, clothing and hygiene is regarded as elder neglect under local, state and federal laws and is also a serious form of negligence. Although a nursing home should ideally be sanitized like a topnotch medical facility, many nursing homes admit more residents then they can handle and often fail to provide good personal hygiene for residents in the process.

These facilities are often understaffed and overwhelmed. Residents are not bathed regularly and wear clothes that aren’t clean. Many lie on sheets that are soiled. Those who wear diapers go unchanged for long periods of time and develop painful breakdown of their skin tissues. Bathrooms and shower facilities are not sanitized and bacteria and germs flourish in these areas. Food preparation areas, counters, chairs and tabletops are often left in an unsanitary state.

Illnesses are more likely to spread among the nursing home population as many already have compromised immune systems. This results in additional medical problems that can lead to all types of infections and serious bodily harm.

Unsanitary conditions generally refers to conditions or circumstances that might cause contamination by dirt , filth, medical waste, or infected bodily fluids, which can lead to injury or health problems. The Ohio Department of Health regulates the operation of nursing homes and will take action if unsanitary conditions exist. They should be contacted if the resident is being denied his or her right to live in a dignified manner. How to contact them is explained below.

Other unsanitary conditions in a nursing home environment may include:

  • Unclean floors
  • Mold
  • Unsterilized equipment such as thermometers
  • Presence of mice, insect infestations, fleas
  • Failure of caregivers to wash hands before handling food or medicine
  • A strong odor of urine, feces, or body odor
  • Failure to quarantine residents with serious contagious conditions
  • Leaving trash or old food exposed for long periods
  • Failure to properly clean wounds or injuries

What to do if you encounter dangerous or unsanitary conditions

You can start by talking with the administrator of the nursing home. Although it is probably unlikely they are unaware of the problem, give them the benefit of the doubt especially if it appears things have not yet reached a critical state. Give them a small amount of time to remedy the situation, but do not delay in taking action.

Your next step would be to file a complaint with the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), Provider and Consumer Services Unit (PCSU). There are a number of ways to do this. You can call the COMPLAINT HOTLINE at 1-800-342-0553 from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, or call the voicemail which is available 24 hours, seven days per week. Intake officers check voicemail messages twice per workday, once in the AM and once in the PM at a minimum.

Click here to access the complaint form online.

You can also fax your complaint to (614) 564-2422, or e-mail your complaint to HCComplaints@odh.ohio.gov, or mail your complaint to:

264 N. High St.
Columbus, OH 43215.

Nursing home abuse or neglect is nothing to take lightly. If you believe your loved one is a victim, the abuse can stop with you. Take action right away. Contact a nursing home abuse lawyer at Slater & Zurz LLP. You can speak with someone or leave a message about your situation 24 hours a day. An attorney will listen to your concerns and determine a plan of action. The firm has years of experience in this area of the law. Call them at 1-888-979-1606.

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