A nursing home caregiver left a disabled patient outside unsupervised during Hurricane Matthew; the patient subsequently drowned in a puddle of water.
66-year-old David Outlaw was a resident at the National Health Care facility in Columbia; the Vietnam War veteran had suffered multiple strokes and was partially paralyzed. During his seven years at the facility, Mr. Outlaw’s overall health had improved tremendously, causing his wife to remark that “he still had a lot of life ahead of him.” When Hurricane Matthew hit, a nurse took Mr. Outlaw outside for a smoke break. She told Richland County Sheriff’s deputies that Mr. Outlaw refused to come back inside, so she left him unattended outdoors. When she returned a few minutes later, Mr. Outlaw was face down in a pool of water.
Several state agencies, including the Department of Health and Environmental Control, are investigating the incident.
Causes of Nursing Home Abuse
In a nutshell, many nursing homes are understaffed and overcrowded, mostly because of economic reasons. Standing alone, either of these conditions could create a climate for nursing home abuse. When both these factors come together, things often get very dangerous.
A few years ago, Medicaid changed both reimbursement rates and the way these rates are calculated, so in many facilities, income declined. To keep profits at their same level, nursing home administrators had to find extra money somewhere. In many cases, since payroll is the largest single expense of many businesses, staff levels seemed like the logical choice. Some facilities reduced staff levels, especially in overnight hours when most residents are asleep, during holidays when many resident are away, and during other non-peak operating times. Other facilities focused on quality, by using general laborers to fill the roles of patient care technicians, licensed vocational nurses to serve as registered nurses, and so on.
At the same time, to raise revenue, many nursing home administrators started accepting more patients, even though from a physical standpoint, the facility had reached its safe capacity. Furthermore, to increase per-patient revenue, many of these residents are in higher risk and maintenance categories, even though there may not be qualified employees on hand 24/7/365 to deal with such patients.
In terms of nursing home abuse, the combination of overcrowding and understaffing often leads to incidents like:
- Resident on Resident Abuse: For various reasons, many people are rather temperamental and prone to sudden outbursts. At nursing homes, the overcrowding means that patients are very protective of the little privacy that they enjoy, and because of the lack of staff, there is no one to break up petty squabbles that eventually flare up into physical conflicts.
- Staff on Resident Abuse: Nursing home staffers are people too, and when they are overworked, tempers get short.
- Neglect: Some residents develop bedsores because they are not properly turned, while others are left isolated in their rooms because there is no one to watch them. Neglect may also occur in physical facilities, as needed updates, renovations, and expansions sometimes never seem to make it to the top of the priority list.
Many nursing home residents are physically frail, so the least amount of physical force can cause serious injuries.
In many of these cases, the abuse occurs because of simple neglect, and although the injuries that result are still actionable, the circumstances are at least somewhat understandable. However, some overcrowding/understaffing abuse is not so easy to explain:
- Sexual Abuse: Some unscrupulous people will try almost anything if they think no one is looking, either to satisfy a real or perceived need or simply to “push the envelope” and see what they can get away with.
- Financial Abuse: A few unscrupulous caregivers concoct elaborate schemes to cheat people out of their money while others simply force residents to sign financial document. Sometimes, administrators are guilty as well, because they often obtain legal guardianship over residents who fall behind on their bills.
All types of elder abuse are often unreported. For example, the victims may not know that they have been abused or they may not want the abusers to “get in trouble.”
The nursing home owner is directly responsible for overseeing all aspects of the facility, including the property condition and the behavior of the people who work there. So, some common liability theories in nursing home cases are:
- Respondeat Superior: Employers are legally responsible for the negligence actions (or inactions) of their employees while they are acting within the course and scope of their employment.
- Negligent Hiring: If employees are negligent outside the scope of their employment, the employers are often still responsible, because they were not selective enough during the hiring process or did not properly supervise workers on the job.
- Landowner Liability: Under South Carolina law, nursing home residents are invitees, so owners owe them the highest possible duty of care.
In all these cases, victims are entitled to compensation for both their economic and noneconomic damages. Moreover, lawsuits shed light on inadequacies at the facility, thus preventing future situations.
Count On an Experienced Lawyer
Nursing home abuse touches thousands of South Carolina families. For a free consultation with an experienced nursing home abuse attorney in Charleston, contact David Aylor Law Offices. We have four locations in the area.