Are Lawsuits Improving Nursing Home Care?

A new study shows that litigation, or the threat of litigation, does not lead to improvements in care at nursing homes. In fact, researchers have reported that high-quality nursing homes face lawsuits often as much as those considered to be low-quality nursing homes.

The study was published March 31 in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers find the results disappointing, since one objective of litigation, other than compensating victims of medical malpractice, is to encourage higher quality care.

One of the study’s co-authors, David Stevenson, is quoted in U.S. News and World Reports as saying, “The results are sobering. One of the fundamental things that the risk of a malpractice claim is supposed to spur is deterring poor quality care. What we found was that the return on being a high-quality facility relative to a low-quality facility isn’t great.”

Researchers reviewed data from lawsuits brought against five large U.S. nursing home chains between 1998 and 2006, looking at the reasons for the suits. During that period, 4,716 claims were filed against 1,465 nursing homes. On average, each nursing home was sued once every two years.

The data revealed that 61 percent of the claims resulted in a payment. The payments averaged almost $200,000.

The most common injuries were fall-related injuries at 27 percent, followed by pressure ulcers or bedsore at 16 percent. Other claims included dehydration, malnutrition and excessive weight loss, physical or verbal abuse, and medication errors.

Nursing home with the best records had a 40 percent risk of being sued, compared to the worst 10 percent of nursing homes, that had a 47 percent chance of being sued.

Those facilities that had the most nurse’s aide hours per resident-day were 45 percent as likely to be sued as facilities with the lowest staffing levels, which averaged 41 percent annually.

The most significant difference in the likelihood of lawsuits was the measure of pressure ulcers or bedsores. Nursing homes with the lowest pressure ulcer rates had a 6 percent chance of being sued in a given year because of bedsore-related complaints compared to 11 percent for the worst-performing nursing homes.

As the research shows, even the best skilled nursing facilities can fall victim to circumstances that can lead to neglect or abuse of patients. The most effective defense against abuse in any type of nursing home is to monitor the care that is being provided to your loved one in a nursing home. If you suspect that someone you know may not be receiving the care that they need, consult with an attorney who is familiar with cases involving nursing home neglect and abuse. Call O’Connor Law for a free initial consultation.

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