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Federal study reveals sub-par skilled nursing care a big risk

If you or a loved one is recovering from a debilitating illness or surgery at a nursing facility, you may be interested in learning what the inspector general (IG) of the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) discovered about the quality of care rendered to Medicare patients.

Focusing solely on one month out of 2011 -- August -- the IG determined that when extrapolating the statistics nationally, almost 22,000 patients suffered injuries and over 1,500 died because they were provided with substandard skilled nursing care.

While many types of patient harm prevention programs are geared toward hospitals, patient safety experts note that the frequency of harm is higher for patients under skilled nursing care than those at in-patient hospitals.

Common types of patient care breaches in skilled nursing facilities

A third of patients in the research study were harmed by infections, medication errors or other treatment-related mistakes. It is scary proof that the United States undoubtedly has a patient harm problem in these type of extended care facilities.

Physicians reviewing patients' records found that nearly 60 percent of injuries and errors were completely preventable. Yet over 50 percent of patients had to get readmitted to hospitals, which wound up costing Medicare roughly $208 million for the single month. That figure makes up approximately 2 percent of the annual total spent by Medicare for in-patient care.

One physician researcher for health care quality who practices at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Medicine stated that this report details "what many [physicians] have suspected ­­- there are vast areas of health care where the field of patient safety has not matured."

Patient care matters

This research only delved into skilled nursing care the patients received while recuperating in nursing homes for the 35 days following their discharge from acute care hospitals. Physicians partnered with the inspector general's office to review the medical records of 653 Medicare patients who were selected at random from 600 facilities around the country.

They discovered that 22 percent of surveyed patients suffered lasting harm from these events, with an additional 11 percent experiencing temporary harm.

Poor skilled nursing care was responsible for patient mortality in 1.5 percent of the studied cases. While some patients suffered from multiple medical problems, they still were expected to survive.

Notable causes of patient injuries and deaths were delaying care, inadequate monitoring, providing substandard treatment and failing to provide necessary care. The deaths, too, were often easily preventable but caused by some or all of the following:

  • Fluid imbalances
  • Blood clots
  • Renal failure
  • Excessive blood loss due to high doses of blood-thinning medications

Numbers don't lie

Because he believes that Medicare patients "deserve better," one Florida senator who was then the chairman of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, promised a "push for better inspections of the facilities."

No matter the statistics for others, even one injury or death due to substandard skilled nursing care is too many if the injured person is you or a loved one. Seeking professional legal advice can provide the information you need when determining whether or not to file a medical malpractice or wrongful death lawsuit.

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Hartelius, Durocher & Winter, PC Channing Hartelius, Roland Durocher, Jeff Winter

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