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Asheville Nursing Home Abuse Lawyers Discuss Assisted-Living Standards

Loved ones of the 81-year-old Alzheimer’s patient knew she had a host of problems. In addition to the Alzheimer’s, she suffered from a fractured spine, high blood pressure and osteoporosis. Getting to and from the bathroom was impossible without a wheelchair or at least a walker.

Her family knew that they could no longer care for her at home. They made an agonizing choice that more and more family members are facing these days: the decision to put her in an assisted-living facility.

However, as our Asheville nursing home abuse lawyers know all too well, not every placement turns out the way family members had envisioned.

That was the case here, and the biggest problems appear to have stemmed from the fact that the assisted-living home was not equipped to handle the full scope of medical issues from which this woman was suffering. However, the facility didn’t want to refer her to a more qualified facility because that would have been money out of its pocket.

In fact, because her husband of 50 years wanted to rent his own unit to stay nearby, it would have meant more than $7,100 a month out of their pocket.

A recent ProPublica investigation revealed the problems associated with mega-provider Emeritus. This particular case unfolded in California, but the company has numerous locations throughout North Carolina, as well as in regions of Tennessee and South Carolina that border Asheville.

Despite brochures that advertised “specially trained” staff, the reality was none had been trained to care for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. At this single facility, one nurse was in charge of overseeing the health of dozens of residents. In the three years before this woman and her husband arrived, the facility had cycled through three other nurses.

One of those former nurses had informed the top brass at Emeritus in writing that she was alarmed by what she saw, citing a “huge shortfall” of staff and a system of care that she characterized as “total dysfunction.”

There were times when the facility went months without a full-time nurse on staff, let alone a doctor. This inevitably led to issues of neglect, according to the whistle-blowing nurse (just before she resigned).

State regulators had cited Emeritus facilities a number of times for failure to adequately train or employ enough staff.

The whole model under which Emeritus operated has exploded in recent years, with increasing popularity on Wall Street, as it didn’t rely on payments from government insurance programs, which cap reimbursement rates. Roughly 90 percent of its revenue came from residents who paid privately.

Today, the assisted-living industry has ballooned to rival the numbers of the nursing home industry. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that roughly three-quarters of a million people reside in the nation’s 31,000 assisted-living facilities, which are touted as a less restrictive alternative to nursing homes.

But the problem is they often aren’t equipped to provide the level of care that many residents require.

For example, in this case, potentially lethal sores began to spread across the woman’s body. Some of the workers, who lacked both the training and legal authority to treat the woman, tried to step in and rub cream into the wounds.

But then, the wounds started to grow, became deeper and got more infected.

State law would have required at that point (and probably long before) that the patient be moved to a nursing home better equipped to provide care.

Throughout the region, a number of assisted-living residents ended up dying as a result of suffering for months with untreated pressure sores that became infected with various strains of bacteria.

And yet, internal memos from Emeritus recovered by ProPublica reveal that top officials were far more concerned with retaining patients, no matter the cost. In an e-mail to one nurse overseeing the facility in 2009, administrators instructed her to “KEEP THE BACK DOOR CLOSED,” a way of saying not to let paying patients move out.

Of course, these kinds of retention efforts, when coupled with inadequate staffing, ultimately lead to fatal instances of neglect.

In the case profiled by ProPublica, the 81-year-old patient suffered an agonizing death from dozens of untreated, infected sores that rotted the skin.

The company eventually settled with her family for $3 million. However, it is of little comfort, knowing the pain she had endured for months.

No one should live – or die – that way.

If you suspect your loved one has been abused, call us today.

If your loved one has suffered nursing home neglect, contact Grimes Teich Anderson LLP. Call 1.800.533.6845. No Attorney Fees Until You’ve Been Paid, exclusive of case costs.

Additional Resources:
Life and Death in Assisted Living, Aug. 4, 2013, By A..C. Thompson, ProPublica
More Blog Entries:
Feds: Nursing Home Bed Rail Deaths, Injuries of Prime Concern in the Carolinas, Jan. 16, 2013, Asheville Nursing Home Neglect Lawyer Blog

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