While most nursing homes in the United States are clean, comfortable places for the elderly to live, there are some that give nursing homes a bad name. When patients don't receive daily attention, they could develop medical conditions like depression, muscle degeneration, and more. However, one of the most common complaints about nursing homes is the development of bedsores. Because of the horror stories of bedsores developing on elderly residents who haven't been moved in months, many people are afraid to pursue the idea of a loved one living in a nursing home, even if that is the best option.
For most nursing homes, bedsores aren't a problem, but they're so notorious because there are some facilities that allow their staff members to neglect patients like that. Bedsores are more correctly called pressure sores or pressure ulcers. They develop when a person is in one position, usually lying in bed or in a wheelchair, for an extended period of time. The blood can't flow properly to the skin tissue where the person is resting, and eventually, circulation is completely cut off and the tissue dies. Bedsores usually develop on the buttocks and hips in elderly patients if they can't move without help.
The real dangers of bedsores, however, are not the sores themselves, but the complications that can result from them. Such complications include bone infections, joint inflammation, arthritis, cellulitis (skin tissue infection), sepsis (blood poisoning), and even cancer. Bedsores develop suddenly and quickly, and can be extremely hard to treat. It is easier to prevent, especially with a staff of people to help an immobile patient. Bedsores can be prevented if the nursing home staff helps a resident shift position every one to two hours, provides pressure-reduction mattresses, inspects the skin for sores, and provides nutritious meals. Most people consider bedsores to be an indication of nursing home abuse. Sometime, bedsores can't be avoided, but if they are found in conjunction with weight loss or gain, depression, or other medical conditions, your loved one is probably being neglected.
Studies show that nationally, bedsores happen in about 23% of nursing home patients (remember, though, not all of these instances are due to neglect). If you see what you think could be neglect or nursing home abuse, you should talk to the staff members and their supervisors. Sometimes, managers are not aware of the problems. If the situation doesn't improve immediately, however, you should go through your state's former complaint process and move you loved one to a new facility as soon as possible. Being old, and even being senile or on life support, does not mean that your loved one has diminished human rights. Nursing homes have to be licensed with the state, and if they are guilty of abuse, that licensing could be taken away. If bedsores are a problem, other rights could have been violated as well. According to federal law, every nursing home resident has rights that include:
- The right to complain or seek help with a grievance without retaliation
- The right to manage his or her own finances
- The right to meet with family
- The right to live without physical restraints or drugs used as "discipline" or for the convenience (but not safety) of the staff
- The right to privacy
- The right to have records handled confidentially
- The right to participate in group activities
Any violation of these rights could be grounds for a lawsuit, and if your loved one is dealing with nursing home abuse, be it physical, mental, or emotional, you should contact a lawyer right away. Bedsores might only be the start. By filing suit and reporting the nursing home to the state, you'll not only get the compensation you need for your care, but you'll also help to prevent the abuse in other residents who may not have family or be able to speak up for themselves.