I was contacted recently by the daughter of a 94 year old blind woman who had fallen at a nursing home and suffered a fractured hip. My first reaction was where is the lawsuit? Elderly people sometimes fall and it really isn’t anyone’s fault. Upon further investigation, I found a fascinating story involving extreme negligence and the intentional alteration of medical records.
The client was admitted for a short stay while her daughter headed down South for a family reunion. She was assessed by nursing home staff as a low risk for falls. Shortly after admission she was noted to be confused and agitated. She repeatedly attempted to get out of bed. The staff prescribed Ativan, a form of chemical restraint, used for their convenience. They failed to attempt any form of non-chemical intervention. Later, they placed her in a wheelchair at the nurse’s station for monitoring, but she would not stay in the chair. The nursing home notes documented that she attempted to walk around the nurse’s station, bumping into things and refusing help.
Late that night she was placed back into bed in her room. She was left there completely unrestrained. The bed posts were left in the down position and there were no pressure alarms that would have alerted nurse’s to any activity. Ninety minutes later she was found by another patient on the floor in the hallway. She had broken her hip and it required surgery the next day.
It is not hard to determine what happened. This was this elderly blind woman’s first night at the nursing home. She must have awakened from her chemically induced stupor and either assumed she was at home or became agitated when she determined that she was not. In either event, on her way to her destination (the bathroom?), she apparently bumped into an unseen object on the floor and tumbled down.
It is hard to understand why she was seen by staff as a low risk for falls. It is even harder to understand why she was left alone, unrestrained and unmonitored. Even worse, once I obtained the nursing home’s records it was apparent that someone altered those records after the fact. A quick glance at them revealed that someone attempted to make it appear that she had fallen only a few minutes after she was placed in bed. This would then avoid the reality that she had been abandoned by the staff for a full 90 minutes.
We have filed suit against the nursing home and have included a claim for punitive damages. It is very hard to motivate jurors to return large verdicts against doctors, hospitals and other medical providers. But if you can show that records were intentionally altered to hide malpractice, it tends to inflame the passions of those jurors. Large verdicts can follow.
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