State and national organizations pushing for nursing home reform say life-threatening problems in facilities for the elderly usually are linked to inadequate staffing.

Nursing home residents have their needs ignored because staffers are overworked, according to top officials with the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform in Washington, D.C., and Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform, which has its headquarters in Lexington.

Serious problems have also occurred at Baptist Convalescent Center in Newport, where two patients became severely dehydrated, with one dying, and at Villaspring of Erlanger Health Care Center, which is under investigation by the Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney’s office. 

"Ninety-two percent of the nursing homes in the country are not staffed at a level that allows them to provide adequate care," said Alice Hedt, executive director of the national coalition, which is pushing federal legislation that would mandate specific staffing levels in nursing homes.

"Our main issue is staffing in nursing homes. It’s the basis for most of the abuse and neglect that we see," said Bernie Vonderheide, who heads the advocacy group in Kentucky.

Like the federal government, Kentucky has no specific staffing requirements that establish a ratio between the number of patients and the number of staff members that must be on duty to care for those patients, Vonderheide said.

"Kentucky is one of 13 states without staffing regulations. They follow the federal regulations that only say that you must have sufficient staff to provide adequate care. We say that they interpret these widely and wildly," Vonderheide said.

Thirty-seven other states have much more specific standards on staffing, he said.

Hedt testified before the Senate Special Committee On Aging on May 2 – roughly 20 years after passage of the federal government’s Nursing Home Reform Law. In her testimony, Hedt cited two studies that had been completed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"These reports and other research show that below 4.1 hours of nursing care a day, residents will almost certainly be harmed – suffer from pressure sores, dehydration, malnutrition, fractures, infections and other conditions that cause pain, decline in functioning, avoidable hospitalization and death," Hedt told the committee.

The Baptist Convalescent Home in Newport received a citation from the state earlier in the week after a resident died two days after he was removed from the home suffering from dehydration.

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State and federal officials announced today a $550,000 settlement in a fraudulent medical billing case against Green Valley Pavilion of Smyrna.

Members of the Delaware Attorney General’s Office medicaid fraud control unit and the U.S. Attorney’s Office determined that some of Green Valley’s employees were altering patient charts in order to get more money from the Delaware Medicaid Program.

Because the investigation showed that none of the nurses personally profited from the scheme, state and federal prosecutors pursued Green Valley for restitution due to Medicaid. After months of negotiations, Green Valley agreed to pay more than a half million dollars.

“Caregivers have been sharply reminded of their responsibilities to their patients, and nursing home owners are on notice that they will be held responsible for the acts of their employees,” said Deputy Attorney General Dan MIller, the lead prosecutor in the case. “We have already seen a drop in the amount of questionable reimbursement requests submitted to the Medicaid program.”

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Investigators in Kenton County, Ohio are looking into a nursing home in Erlanger, where several complaints have been filed against Villa Springs Nursing Home.

As many as five patients may have died as a result of abuse and neglect, authorities said.

One former patient told News 5 he nearly died trying to get help from a nurse when he stayed at Villa Spring.  “She wouldn’t stay with me,” said the man, who declined to give his name or appear on camera. “She brought me a couple of pills and ran off.”

The World War II Navy veteran said he could barely breathe and asked the nurse to call 911.

“When I turned my light on for help, she turned it off,” he said.

The man said the nurse refused to provide care until he tried to call 911 himself. Emergency crews discovered he had been having a heart attack.

“We’ve received over 50 calls already in this office, complaints (and) concerns from families who have had past experiences and current experiences with this facility,” said Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Garry Edmondson.

Despite numerous complaints, Villa Spring representatives said their facility meets quality standards.

An Orleans County nursing home has been fined $75,900 by the federal government for failing to comply with quality care requirements.

Orchard Manor was cited for civil money penalties based on a survey in November. Civil money penalties are given out by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

According to The Monitor, the amount of Orchard Manor’s penalty “does not reflect a 35 percent reduction as the facility did not waive its right to a hearing as permitted under law.”

Leroy Village Green Residential Health Care Facility in Leroy, Genesee County, also made the civil money penalties list, being fined $3,412.50 for results from an October survey.

The family of Florence Pierpoint, a 79-year old nursing home patient who was killed while in the care of a Tacoma nursing home, filed a lawsuit after a medical examiner ruled her death a homicide caused by a morphine overdose.

The complaint  includes charges that the facility’s staff failed to administer medications according to the physician’s orders and neglected to monitor Pierpoint’s condition. 

Pierpoint was transported to the facility after returning from a stay at a local hospital where she was treated for pneumonia she acquired in the nursing home.

On November 2, 2004, records show a sudden and drastic decline in Pierpoint’s condition, noting confusion and disorientation. The nursing home’s response was to administer additional doses of morphine and Xanax, a powerful anti-anxiety drug.  Later that day, Nisqually staff reported that Pierpoint was becoming increasingly restless and they administered additional morphine.

"I noticed my mom’s dramatic slide, from awake and aware to nearly comatose," said Linda Fox, Pierpoint’s daughter. "I raised these issues with Nisqually’s staff, but they chose to ignore my pleas."

Pierpoint died less than one hour after the additional morphine was administered.

"Florence’s family is adamant that the nursing home and the responsible staff be held accountable for their actions," Meyers said. "Their deepest fear is that other patients could be at risk." 

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Two nursing home workers were fired this week after police said they were involved in "inappropriate activity." Police would not go into detail about what the two employees were accused of doing.

"We got a call from the nursing home I believe that there was some inappropriate actions and we took it from there," said Galion police Chief Brian Saterfield.

A representative from the nursing home said the two were immediately suspended and later fired following an internal confidential investigation.

Why can’t they disclose what these two cretins did to the poor residents?  Why the need for secrecy?

On April 27, 2007 a conference was held in Columbia, South Carolina, entitled, "Nursing Home Malpractice: Evaluating and Addressing Accountability." The conference was sponsored by the National Business Institute. Five attorneys spoke on various aspects of nursing home litigation in South Carolina. Attorney D. Nathan Hughey, who has represented both plaintiffs and defendants in nursing home litigation, performed a study of jury verdicts in South Carolina in nursing home litigation for the past decade. Mr. Hughey reported at the conference that the most recent jury verdict in South Carolina was the case of Sinclair v. White Oak Manor, tried in November of 2005, in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. The jury awarded $1,050,000.00 in the case, being the 2nd highest jury verdict in a nursing home malpractice case in South Carolina in the past decade.

The case involved an 85 year old patient being administered a shot of insulin in error, along with other allegations of on-going neglect for a period of time. The Plaintiff alleged hypoglycemic shock and increased dementia, in a hotly contested case in which the Defendant denied that the patient suffered any long term problems.

On April 27, 2007, Gary W. Poliakoff spoke at an annual conference hosted by the National Business Institute, entitled, "Nursing Home Malpractice: Evaluating and Addressing Accountability." Mr. Poliakoff also was a speaker at the same conference in 2006, also regarding nursing home malpractice litigation. Mr. Poliakoff’s topic this year was, "Issues Involved in Taking the Case to Trial." Included in his presentation, Mr. Poliakoff discussed opening arguments, special litigation techniques, tips for making a persuasive argument, sending the right message during closing arguments, how to determine damages, and examples of litigation in nursing home cases. The attendees consisted of attorneys and paralegals representing both plaintiffs and defendants in nursing home litigation. In his presentation Mr. Poliakoff also provided significant case law regarding nursing home litigation, as well as significant orders issued by courts in nursing home cases.

While Mr. Poliakoff’s firm represents only plaintiffs (patients and their families) in nursing home abuse and neglect cases, he presented case law, exhibits, and legal points applicable to the nursing home litigation as a whole.

There is no need for "tort reform" when 100,000 patients die each year as a result of medical malpractice and juries tend to side with the doctors anyway!

Juries in medical malpractice cases sympathize with the doctors being sued rather than the patients who are suing them, a law professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia has concluded after analyzing three decades of research on the subject.

There is no evidence to support the propoganda that the tort system amounts to a lottery for injured plaintiffs. If anything, the system is biased against them.

For several years the Bush administration has pushed to reform the tort system, decrying an "epidemic" of frivolous malpractice cases and "runaway" jury verdicts that officials maintained were forcing doctors out of practice and leaving patients without needed medical care.

"The studies reveal that juries treat physicians very favorably, perhaps unfairly so," Peters writes, "and are more likely to defer to the judgment of a physician defendant than other physicians are."

Doctors, he found, win about half of the cases that independent experts who review them believe should result in a plaintiff’s victory. That juries rule in favor of doctors more often than independent medical reviewers do is particularly surprising, Peter says, "given the documented reluctance of physicians to label another physician’s care as negligent."

Overall, injured patients win only about 27 percent of all cases that go to trial — the lowest rate of any category of tort litigation, researchers have found.

There are several reasons for the bias in favor of physician defendants, Peters notes. Among them are the defendants’ superior economic resources and social standing; jurors’ willingness to give a doctor the benefit of the doubt in cases in which the evidence is confusing or complicated; and cultural prohibitions against seeming to profit from injury.

A jury’s lack of medical expertise, Peters says, tends to favor the doctor, not the patient.

"Critics assume that the ‘battle of experts’ frees juries to award unjustified recoveries," he writes. "The data suggest that it is more likely to shelter negligent physicians."

 A wrongful death lawsuit was filed against a Menomonee Falls nursing home, contending that a resident died from complications caused by broken bones in both legs that she suffered during a fall that was not reported.

Dorismae Burgardt was dropped by a nursing assistant at Menomonee Falls Health Care Center using an improper technique. The incident was not reported to a registered nurse or the woman’s physician. The first mention that something was amiss came the next day, when it was noted on her chart that Burgardt had "bruises" on both knees caused by being "lowered to the floor".

Three weeks later, Burgardt was dead. She was 81.

"This lawsuit is about dignity and safety," said attorney Jay Urban, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Burgardt’s estate and her husband, Allan Burgardt of Germantown. 

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