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How common is it to suffer injuries or harm in a nursing home?

It is estimated that nearly 40 percent of people who are over the age of 65 will at some point in their lives spend some time in a nursing home. Keeping that estimate in mind, our readers will find it alarming to learn that according to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which primarily focused on skilled nursing care, found that nearly 22 percent of the patients at such facilities suffered some kind of long-lasting harm while another 11 percent suffered some kind of temporary harm. Additionally, the study found that nearly 1.5 percent of the patients lost their lives in such facilities due to substandard care.

In general, a skilled nursing care facility is defined as a nursing home where a patient who has been discharged from an acute care hospital goes for up to 35 days for care or treatment. Alarmingly, the study found that most of the errors that occurred at the nursing homes were preventable and ranged from medication errors, blood clots, kidney failure, excessive bleeding due to the administration of anti-coagulants, and fluid imbalances.

At any healthcare facility, which a nursing home is, patients and their family expect a reasonable standard of care. However, the study found that a number injuries and deaths that were caused at nursing home facilities were due to substandard care, inadequate monitoring of patients and delays or complete failure to provide the patient with the necessary care. In fact, in one case, because caregivers at the nursing home did not recognize symptoms, the patient sustained a lung collapse, later had an adverse reaction to a medication administered, a blood clot, and consequently had to be transferred to a hospital for treatment.

A 2010 report by DHHS estimated that nearly 180,000 patients die annually because of substandard care. However, other estimates are higher.

Source: ProPublica, "One Third of Skilled Nursing Patients Harmed in Treatment," Marshall Allen, March 3, 2014

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