The Stella Awards, named after Stella Liebeck (McDonald’s coffee case), are suppossed to detail the most frivolous lawsuits of the year. The award goes to people who have allegedly won or settled obviously frivolous cases. Many of the cases involve the plaintiff engaging in ridiculous acts which results in their own injury. For example, a woman trips over her son in a store or a man burglarizes a home but gets stuck in the garage. Instead of paying for their own stupidity, the store or the home’s insurance gets stuck with the bill.
These inane stories elicit reactions of utter disbelief. And for a very good reason. With the exception of Stella Liebeck, none of these lawsuits are real. They are false stories created by the insurance lobbyists and spread by The Chamber of Commerce. The Stella Awards have reached urban legend status at this point, being passed around server to server across the country. But the story of these awards is just that, a story.
Though it’s good for a laugh, it does shadow the false perceptions of Stella Liebeck’s lawsuit, which was a very real not frivolous suit. (See the movie Hot Coffee if you want to know the real story behind that case.) This is just another example of how corporate dollars can bias media and popular perceptions.
The deaths of three Bay Area residents are big news in the California area better known for Silicon Valley and the Golden Gate Bridge. Mercury News, a San Jose news group, reports that the deaths of three residents have led to a combined total of $200,000. Kindred Transitional Care and Rehabilitation, O’Connor Hospital, and St. John Kronstadt Convalescent Center were each fined $60,000 or more for three deaths which could have all been easily prevented.
A 74 year old resident with a shunt had a bandage wrapped around the site which was soaked in blood. A registered nurse at Kindred told police and state investigators that she didn’t identify the source of the bleeding or apply pressure to the area, even though compression to a bleeding site is First Aid 101. Emergency help arrived, but the man bled to death.
At O’Connor’s skilled nursing facility, a resident who had sclerosis and paralyzed limbs was on a respirator to assist with breathing. A respirator therapist placed the respirator on standby mode which stops air flow and safety alarms, while cleaning the resident’s tracheostomy, or opening in the neck. He couldn’t recall if he had turned the respirator back on, but apparently he hadn’t, because the resident was found unresponsive with the ventilator in standby mode.
The last death occurred when staff took three residents from St. John’s to a ballgame. One resident had a history of choking and was on a restricted diet of chopped and ground food. Staff bought hot dogs for all the residents. The man choked on the hot dog, losing consciousness. He died at the hospital.
Some of these instances sound made up like the infamous Stella Awards. It’s hard to believe that anyone could be so stupid as to not put pressure on a bleeding arm, or to leave on standby a machine which helps someone breathe-not only taking away that ability but also the alarms that would indicate the resident needed help, and it seems especially stupid to give a hot dog to a man who can only eat chopped up or ground foods. Not only are these things frankly idiotic, but they also represent three instances where lives could have been saved.
The deaths of these residents are at the hands of the facilities and staff members who were supposed to be taking care of them. A nurse who doesn’t know or doesn’t care to put pressure on a bleeding arm. A therapist who forgets to turn back on a respirator. And staff who gave a man with a restricted diet a ball park frank. These stories unfortunately are real and they all reflect the ominous claims of negligence and abuse that have become so commonplace with today’s nursing homes.
In a report by the Chronicle, Augusta resident Lashanda Johnson has been arrested for battery of a disabled adult. When the patient resisted Johnson’s attempts to change her sheets in the middle of the night, Johnson pushed the patient and said she would hit them if they fought back. A bump was found on the patient’s head, prompting the calling of authorities. The patient’s room was under video surveillance and clearly showed the exchange between Johnson and the patient.
Everyone at some point has heard about mercy killings or angels of death, where medical professionals euthanize someone in an attempt to “ease their pain and suffering”. The most well known example is probably Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who assisted in the suicide of multiple patients, which eventually earned him a jail sentence.
In the Spanish town of Olot, near the border of France, Joan Vila, admitted to killing 11 residents in 2009 and 2010 at the nursing home where he worked, The Washington Post reports. He claimed that it was to ease their pain and suffering. How did he ease their pain and suffering? By forcing them to drink bleach, and other toxic liquids. His lawyers say that he is mentally ill and are asking for 20 years probation. The prosecutors are seeking a 194 year sentence, arguing that the man’s crimes were not committed with the intent of giving mercy at all.