March 2010 Archives

March 31, 2010

Pennsylvania Nursing Home Employees Threaten Strike Over Pay

Pennsylvania nursing home workers who are part of the Service Employees International Union have threatened to strike if their demands for pay raises and affordable health care benefits are not met. The union members who might strike include licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants, dietary workers, housekeepers, and maintenance workers -- all vitally important to proper nursing home patient care. This is a labor issue, but as a Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawyer, I know staffing levels and conditions are a very important part of safety for nursing home patients. For the sake of patients as well as the others involved, I hope that a strike is averted.

The nursing home staff members are all employees of homes owned by Extendicare, including Spruce Manor Nursing and Rehab Center in West Reading, PA; Slate Belt Nursing and Rehab Center in Bangor, PA; Broad Mountain Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Frackville, PA; and Beaver Valley Nursing and Rehab in Beaver Falls, PA. They complain that pay raises in their current contract don't keep up with the cost of living. This issue directly affects nursing home patients' lives, because underpaid and overworked nursing home staff members make serious mistakes in patient care. Studies consistently show that undertrained staff members are more likely to make mistakes or actively abandon good practices. Many of the abuses that nursing home patients experience can be traced to low staffing levels or insufficient attention to the quality of the staff, both of which can be caused by a nursing home company's desire to ramp up profits by cutting labor costs. For example, failure to read and follow a patient's treatment plan, or failure to respond to emergencies in time to help patients, can result from a small staff being stretched too thin. As I discussed recently, this can have tragic results.

Extendicare made over $17 million in profits last year in Pennsylvania, a profit that SEIU said rose by over 50% from the 2008 number. Christine Peters, part of the SEIU bargaining committee and a certified nursing assistant, said, "We want to make sure that some of these profits (go to) improving staffing for our residents and good job standards for caregivers." As a Philadelphia nursing home negligence attorney, I applaud this sentiment. Nursing home companies that privilege profits over patient care inevitably put patients' lives and well being in danger. The threat of a strike may ultimately help patients as well as the staff members live better lives.

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March 29, 2010

Pennsylvania Families Should Be Alert to Sexual Abuse of Nursing Home Patients

The Troy (New York) Record recently reported on the sentencing of a former nursing home aide for sexually abusing a nursing home patient. As a Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawyer, I was glad to see the court make clear that abuse of helpless nursing home patients will not be tolerated. Robert Gunderson, 52, of Schoharie County, NY, pled guilty to attempted first-degree sexual abuse. Gunderson admitted to touching the breast of a 78-year-old woman who was a patient at the Northwoods Rehabilitation Center and Extended Care Facility in Schaghticoke, NY, where he worked as a nurse's aide. The patient was "physically helpless," according to the Record, and the abuse occurred in late 2007 and early 2008. Gunderson was sentenced to ten years' probation, although he could have faced up to seven years of jail time on the charges that were brought against him.

Surprisingly, these are not the first allegations of sexual abuse concerning Gunderson. He is also facing a charge of third-degree sexual abuse for an alleged incident that took place during his employment at the Eddy Ford Nursing Home in Cohoes, NY. In August and September of 2008, Gunderson is alleged to have French kissed a patient with multiple sclerosis who was confined to a wheelchair. It is disturbing that Gunderson was able to behave this way toward patients in two different nursing homes over the course of a year. Nursing homes have a legal responsibility to ensure that they hire qualified staff with no history of abuse or other dangerous criminal violations. Nevertheless, some homes may cut corners to save money. For example, they may not conduct sufficient background checks. Or they may be so understaffed that personnel do not see patients frequently enough to notice signs of abuse from another staff member.

Nursing home patients' family members should be alert to signs of abuse when they visit. According to an article in Nursing Homes, signs that a patient may have been sexually abused include: "difficulty in walking or sitting, pain or itching in genital areas, the occurrence of sexually transmitted diseases, unexplained bruising, welts, lacerations, fractures, or other injuries, decreased socialization, self-injurious behavior and/or attempts to hurt others, fear of specific people or places, [and] habit disorders such as pulling hair or ears."

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March 27, 2010

Philadelphia Nursing Home Run by Repeat Offender Shut Down for Safety Reasons

Philadelphia's local ABC affiliate, WPVI, reported recently that a West Philadelphia nursing home has been shut down for serious code violations. According to neighbors, elderly patients of the nursing home were often left on the street to fend for themselves. There have also been allegations that patients were physically abused. The State Department of Public Health removed residents and medical equipment from the nursing home after determining that the home's condition was "an immediate and serious danger to the lives and health" of its residents. As a Philadelphia nursing home negligence lawyer, I am saddened to hear that patients were made to live in such deplorable conditions at a time when they should have been receiving care and compassion from the staff to whom their care was entrusted.

The owner of the Adelphia Personal Care Home, Anand Mittal, and his wife were charged by the Attorney General with criminal offenses such as reckless endangerment, insurance fraud, criminal conspiracy, and allowing an unlicensed person to operate the facility's pharmacy. Anand Mittal has already pleaded guilty to felony charges including making fraudulent claims. According to The Intelligencer News, Mittal and his wife, Kumkum Mittal, have faced such charges before in connection with the Willow Crest Manor assisted living facility they owned. A November 2009 report in The Intelligencer of Doylestown, Penn. details charges against Anand Mittal including Medicaid fraud, insurance fraud, theft by deception, recklessly endangering others, conspiracy and violations of the state's Pharmacy Act. Kumkum Mittal was charged with tampering with public records, theft by deception, recklessly endangering others and conspiracy. The facility's former nursing director, Cynthia L. Dreifert, pled guilty to tampering with placement records there and received a sentence of one year's probation.

Unfortunately, Mr. Mittal's history of problems does not end there. According to The Intelligencer, in October 2008, Mr. Mittal was charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct for allegedly yelling at a Willow Crest Manor patient, grabbing him around the neck, and shaking him. An employee who saw it happen was so upset that she quit immediately.

While I am glad that patients who were subjected to such treatment have finally been moved to safer environments, as a Pennsylvania nursing home abuse attorney I wonder how these patients are being provided for. They were unlikely to be in good health to begin with, and the abuse and neglect they experienced while in the Mittals' institutions may have worsened their health considerably. In addition, terrible experiences like being left helpless on the street to fend for themselves must have taken a serious emotional toll on these patients. While those responsible for abuse may be held criminally accountable by the state, an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer can help victims hold their abusers accountable in civil court as well. Abusers owe a debt to those whom they have harmed as well as to society as a whole.

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March 25, 2010

Pennsylvania Families Should Take Note of Financial Abuse Schemes in Nursing Homes

A former nursing home business office manager in California has been charged with kidnapping an 85-year-old Alzheimer's disease patient from her Berkeley nursing home. According to the San Francisco Gate, Concepcion "Connie" Pinco Giron, 51, stole more than $50,000 from six elderly patients of the Elmwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, including the one she kidnapped. California state Attorney General Jerry Brown said, "This is a shocking case of nursing-home abuse and a gross violation of trust." As a Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawyer, I urge nursing home patients and their families to watch their finances as carefully as they can.

Giron's schemes involved opening bank accounts at Citibank in the patients' names, according to the Department of Justice. Then she transferred their money into her own account, wrote herself checks from their accounts, and used their ATM cards. She also allegedly stole money from their trust accounts at the nursing home. Giron also told one patient's son that he had to pay an extra $600 per month for his mother's care, and then kept the money for herself, over the course of 18 months. And in August 2008, Giron claimed that one of the patients would be transferring to another facility, but in fact kidnapped the patient and moved her into Giron's own home. Then Giron cashed the patient's pension and Social Security checks.

In August 2009, the state attorney general's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse began investigating Giron in response to a complaint about her. That month, investigators found the kidnapping victim, 85-year-old Carnell Williams, in Giron's home, physically unharmed. Giron has been charged in Alameda County with kidnapping to commit another crime, false imprisonment, elder abuse and six counts of theft from elder or dependent adults by a caretaker. She is being held at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin in lieu of $365,000 bail.

A dependent, elderly nursing home resident should not have to fear that his or her lifetime's worth of savings will be stolen by his or her caretakers, and thankfully many nursing home employees are honest. Nevertheless, financial exploitation of the elderly is all too common. Patients and their families should track their bank accounts and be alert to any unusual activity.

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March 23, 2010

Dangerous Negligence Attributed to Pennsylvania Long-Term Care Hospital Company

Spurred by reports of negligence in patient care, McKnight's Long Term Care News reports that the Senate Finance Committee has demanded that Select Medical Corporation answer questions about its staffing levels and quality that were raised in a recent New York Times article. Select, a Pennsylvania-based corporation, runs 89 long-term care hospitals and is one of the largest such companies in the United States. Among the troubling cases that concern the Senate Finance Committee are a patient's heart attack and death after a nurse turned off his heart monitor because she was tired of hearing its beep.

Long-term care hospitals treat seriously ill patients who are too sick for nursing homes and who are not improving quickly at regular hospitals. The New York Times reports allegations that Select structures its patients' stays so that it can maximize payments from Medicare, regardless of the patients' medical needs, and it inadequately staffs its hospitals for financial reasons. Patient care is compromised as a result of these profit-driven concerns. Select denies all of these allegations. Nevertheless, Select's hospitals received four times the number of citations for serious violations of Medicare rules that regular hospitals received in 2007 and 2008. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer I have realized that certain facilities routinely provide substandard care.

The only penalty that Medicare can use to punish hospitals for such violations is to bar them from Medicare entirely. That penalty is rarely used, and in one case when it was applied, the hospital successfully sued to bar Medicare from imposing it. However, the families of some victims of long-term care hospital negligence have filed lawsuits against the companies. Even if Medicare does not stop abusive long-term care hospitals from continuing to harm patients, negligent institutions and the companies that run them can still be held accountable through lawsuits.

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March 21, 2010

Pennsylvania Families Should Monitor Nursing Home Patients' Care

The family of 54-year-old Rodney L. Volkening of South Elgin, Illinois, has filed a lawsuit against Tower Hill Healthcare Center, a South Elgin nursing home, for negligence in Volkening's care, reports the Elgin, Illinois Courier-News. Volkening had spina bifida, a permanently disabling birth defect that, combined with his other medical conditions, left him in need of constant medical care.

Yet when Volkening was admitted to a hospital after his time at Tower Hill, hospital staff observed that he had not been receiving proper medical care at all. His colostomy bag had exploded and there was "a large amount of stool around" him, according to Volkening's family's attorney, Craig Brown. According to the lawsuit, Volkening had severe bedsores "that were covered by an old dressing covered by stool. He had a fever of 107 degrees with apparently no anti-fever medication being given to him at the nursing home prior to his arrival." "Because he presented to the emergency room with poor oral hygiene and poor skin care," Brown said, hospital staff suspected abuse and negligence at the nursing home and filed a report with the Illinois Department of Human Services.

Volkening's death certificate lists a staph infection and pneumonia as the causes of his death. While the family's lawsuit does not allege that the neglect caused Volkening's death, Brown said that they are investigating whether the nursing home's poor hygiene led to the infection that caused his death. Regardless of the outcome of that investigation, Brown and Volkening's family still intend to hold the nursing home responsible for failing to live up to its "statutory obligation not to violate the rights of any resident, including the obligation not to abuse or neglect any resident," as laid out in the state Nursing Home Care Act. As a Philadelphia injury lawyer it is important to make sure a nursing home is living up to its obligations under both state and federal regulations.

It is sad that nursing home patients and their families are unable to depend on the professional integrity of nursing home staff to ensure patients' health and safety. As a Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawyer, I have seen many cases involving neglect that led to serious illness or wrongful death.

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March 19, 2010

Story Ends With Ray of Hope for Pennsylvania Nursing Home Neglect Victims

The Gary, Indiana Post-Tribune ran several articles recently about the demise of Northlake Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, a nursing home that was so consistently negligent in its patient care that the Indiana State Department of Health first suspended its license and ultimately issued an emergency closure order. As a Pennsylvania nursing home negligence lawyer, I was glad to read that authorities took action to save patients from being abused further, and I hope that the patients who were harmed are able to recover.

The Post-Tribune recounts a number of horrible instances of abuse at the nursing home. Mary Ann Jackson, 51, was at Northlake because she had suffered a stroke. She came to the nursing home with one bedsore, but during her stay, it spread to become a massive sore across her legs and buttocks. Jackson's sister said that when family came to visit her, staff members would bandage Jackson's sores to make it appear as if she was recovering, when in fact she was getting worse. "Nearly her whole behind was gone," said Shelli Jackson, Mary Ann's sister. "You could see the muscles and ligaments down to the bone. Her bedsores were so bad she was stuck in a fetal position with her legs glued together." A state inspection of Northlake found that the nursing home had failed to alert Jackson's doctor to problems such as her high blood pressure, heart failure, vomiting and significant weight loss.

After just one month in the nursing home, Mary Ann was transferred to a hospital and the family was advised that both of her legs needed to be amputated. The family refused and moved her to another hospital, where staff recommended that Mary Ann go into hospice care. The family chose not to follow this advice either. Miraculously, Mary Ann is recovering. "She's much better now," said Shelli. "Her minor bedsores are healing and she'll need skin grafts. She talks. She doesn't have renal or heart problems, but she's still struggling with the changes and she'll need wound care for the rest of her life. The good news is they said she'd be dead in a month and it's been four months."

Mary Ann finally transferred to Lawrence Manor Healthcare Center in Indianapolis. Rick Lipscomb, director of social services and admissions there, was horrified by Mary Ann's condition and said that he had never seen a case like hers in his 21 years in the field. "She had one foot in the grave," he said. "I don't know how she didn't die. I've seen animal carcasses on the side of the road that looked better than when she arrived here from another nursing home. ... People should go to jail for what happened to her." Sadly, Mary Ann's case was just one of many stories of abuse and neglect in the Post-Tribune's articles about Northlake.

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March 17, 2010

Pennsylvania Families Should Take Note of Serious Problems in Nursing Homes

An investigative report that found 38% of Massachusetts nursing homes had been rated "below average" got the attention of our Pennsylvania nursing home neglect attorneys. The Boston Herald's March 7 report found dozens of problems with neglect, lack of cleanliness, and poor staff training over two years. These lapses led to patients' deaths and nursing home staff members' attempts to cover up their negligence. In a 2008 incident in Danvers, Massachusetts, nurses failed to do CPR on an unresponsive patient, whom a doctor pronounced dead 15 minutes later. A nurse admitted to falsifying the patient's medical records.

In other reports, nursing home staff ignored treatment plans to keep patients from losing too much weight -- a common problem in nursing homes -- neglected to provide appropriate pain medication, and failed to protect patients from themselves and each other. Industry experts pinned part of the blame on low staff-to-patient ratios, leading to staffs that are too overworked to give patients the attention they need. "Most nursing homes are too understaffed to avoid harming residents," said Janet Wells, director of public policy at the National Citizens' Coalition for Nursing Home Reform. Even W. Scott Plumb of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, which represents nursing homes, said that high staff turnover and worker shortages are continuing problems for nursing homes. These problems will only worsen as baby boomers age and nursing homes are flooded with even more patients.

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March 15, 2010

Treatment Plans are of Vital Importance for Pennsylvania Nursing Home Patients

As Philadelphia nursing home abuse lawyers, we took note of the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader's March 3 report about a mistake by a nursing assistant that cost a nursing home resident his life. Lynwood C. Bauer, 27, was charged with reckless abuse of an adult in connection with his work as a former certified nursing assistant at the Pineville, KY, Britthaven Nursing Home. The nursing home was also cited for actual harm and for failing to report the incident immediately. Bauer was being held in lieu of $500,000 bail.

Bauer failed to read the patient's treatment plan before working with him. Because of this, Bauer was unaware of appropriate and safe procedures for moving the patient from his bed. The patient was paralyzed on his left side from a stroke, so two people and a mechanical lift were required to move him, according to his treatment plan. But Bauer moved the patient alone and left him sitting on the edge of his bed. The patient fell, and Bauer put him back in bed, again without assistance. In another violation of the nursing home's policy, Bauer failed to assess the patient for injuries after the fall. Other staff members later found that the patient was injured and required hospitalization. Bauer was fired, and the patient died at the hospital.

We see cases like this often in our work as Pennsylvania nursing home negligence attorneys. Nursing home patients are often unable to speak up for themselves to remind staff members of their treatment plans. It takes only one negligent staff member to harm a nursing home patient, leaving him or her with further damaged health and quality of life, not to mention the costly medical bills from hospitalization that should never have been needed in the first place. Lynwood Bauer will face up to a year in jail if convicted, but family members of patients who have been injured or killed because of nursing home negligence can sue to recover damages for their pain, suffering and expense.

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March 13, 2010

Nursing Home Company Operating in Pennsylvania Allowed Delusional Patient to Sign Binding Arbitration Agreement

Recently, we wrote about the dangers of agreeing to binding arbitration in nursing home contracts. As Pennsylvania nursing home negligence attorneys, we strongly advise nursing home patients and their families to avoid binding arbitration agreements, and a March 8 story in the Boston Herald starkly illustrates the reasons why. The family of John J. Donahue is suing a Brockton, Mass., nursing home over his death from serious injuries sustained because of a staff member's negligence. Donahue, 93, was paralyzed and needed staff members' help moving. Because a staff member tried to move Donahue alone, using a lift that was supposed to be operated by two people, Donahue's left eye was gouged by a metal safety hook on the machine. For reasons not made clear in the article, the home waited 15 hours before taking him to the hospital. Donahue's eye had to be removed, but he still developed an infection that caused sepsis, a dangerous immune system overreaction. This led to his death six weeks later.

Donahue's stepdaughter and the executor of his affairs, Marlene Owens, tried to sue Embassy House Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. However Donahue had signed an arbitration agreement when he entered the home at the age of 91, barring him from requesting a jury trial if he was killed or injured by Embassy House's negligence. At that time, Embassy House's own records showed that he was suffering from confusion, delusions and depression. Owens and her nursing home abuse attorney fought this agreement in court, winning a declaration last year that the agreement was invalid because Donahue was "unable to act in a reasonable manner." Further, the judge said, Embassy House should have known that Donahue was not competent to sign away his right to a trial. This decision opened the way for Owens to sue Embassy House and Kindred Healthcare, Embassy House's parent company at the time. Kindred Healthcare operates in Pennsylvania as well. Owens alleges that both companies' negligence led to her stepfather's terrible accident, deformity and death.

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March 11, 2010

Dementia Predicted to Rise Among Very Elderly in Pennsylvania Nursing Homes

As Philadelphia nursing home neglect lawyers, we took note of a recent study reporting that the rate of dementia is likely to rise significantly as people live longer. McKnight's Long-Term Care News reported Feb. 25 that the University of California study predicted "epidemic" levels of dementia in people over the age of 90. For people over 100 years of age, the likelihood of having dementia is over 40%. Over the next four decades, the number of seniors over age 90 will more than quadruple.

Often, the families of patients with dementia are unable to care for them at home, so it is likely that many of these people will need care in a nursing home setting. This makes it particularly important to be vigilant for signs of abuse -- for example, overmedication of patients to make them easier for the nursing home staff to manage. As we discussed recently, a nursing home company operating in Pennsylvania was accused of participating in a kickbacks scheme with pharmaceutical companies. As part of this scheme, the nursing homes had incentives to overprescribe Risperdal, an anti-psychotic drug that is used to "chemically restrain" patients with dementia. Unfortunately, patients who are unnecessarily prescribed these chemical restraints may die from them.

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March 9, 2010

Report Shows 90 Percent of Nursing Homes in Pennsylvania and Elsewhere Had Violations in 2007

As Pennsylvania nursing home negligence attorneys, we were dismayed to read in McKnight's Long Term Care News that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reported that 90% of all nursing homes in the United States were charged with varying degrees of violations in 2007. These violations often involved the nursing homes' failure to follow established federal or state rules and regulations. McKnight's columnists Paola DiNatale and Brad Granger say that nursing homes need to include all these rules and regulations in their facilities' policies as a way of avoiding harm of all kinds.

Of course nursing homes should do this. It benefits patients, staff, and the institutions alike if nursing homes are run well and no one suffers any harm. And of course, most nursing homes do say they plan to follow these rules and policies in the literature they give to patients and families. But if 90% of all nursing homes are failing to meet the standards set out by state and federal rules and regulations, clearly not all nursing homes are following through. In some cases, inattention may cause the lapses; in other cases, it's a dangerously overworked staff or employees who misuse their power to residents' detriment. But no matter what the cause, families that discover the problems too late can end up with a seriously injured or ill loved one and high medical bills that make them seriously consider a lawsuit.

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March 7, 2010

Nursing Home Chain Operating in Pennsylvania Settles Kickbacks Case

As Pennsylvania nursing home abuse attorneys, we are keenly aware of the dangers of overmedicating nursing home patients and we are pleased to see pharmaceutical providers and nursing home companies held accountable for it. As we noted just over a month ago, federal regulators have pursued several companies over a kickbacks scandal involving nursing home medications.

McKnight's Long Term Care News reported on March 2 that two large, Atlanta-based nursing home companies, Sava Senior Care, which operates two Pennsylvania nursing homes, and Mariner Health Care Inc., have agreed to pay a $14 million settlement for participating in some of the same pharmacy kickbacks that recently cost Omnicare $98 million in penalties. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Omnicare, the nation's largest specialized provider of pharmaceuticals to nursing home patients, took kickbacks for encouraging doctors to prescribe Risperdal, an anti-psychotic drug, to nursing home patients.

Commenting on the Omnicare settlement announced in November 2009, Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, pointed out that "Illegal conduct like this can... lead to patients being prescribed medications they do not need" and that such kickbacks put profits ahead of good medicine. As Philadelphia nursing home negligence attorneys, we are here to represent the victims of profit-seeking schemes such as this. Over-prescribing medication for nursing home patients costs them and their families money as well as potentially harming them physically, when many of them are already suffering from weakened health. Unnecessary side effects and interactions with other drugs are bad enough, but these patients' dignity as human beings also suffers when they are overmedicated for the sake of nursing homes' profits and convenience.

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March 5, 2010

Nursing Home Director Charged With Neglect for Ignoring Suspicious Patient Deaths

A legal case out of Chicago caught the eyes of our Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawyers. The Chicago Daily Herald reported Feb. 25 that the former director of a nursing home is being tried for neglect and obstructing justice for her role in a scandal involving a nurse who allegedly euthanized patients. Penny Whitlock, 60, directed the Woodstock Residence Nursing Home during a series of suspicious deaths in 2006. Nurse Marty Himebaugh is accused in the case of "playing Angel of Death" by giving dangerously high doses of drugs to selected patients.

Himebaugh is accused of causing at least four deaths at Woodstock. At first, investigators thought these were "mercy killings," but state investigators later found evidence that she chose patients who she thought were difficult or annoying. Other nurses reported to Whitlock that Himebaugh was acting strange and once said she'd given a patient a cocktail so she wouldn't bother her during her shift. Himebaugh faces felony charges of neglect and possession of a controlled substance. Whitlock herself is accused of failing to follow up on those and other complaints, even allegedly saying Himebaugh could "continue to play Angel of Death." Both women face a maximum of three years in prison, and are also targeted by civil nursing home abuse lawsuits from victims' families.

Our Philadelphia nursing home negligence attorneys wish those families the best of luck pursuing justice from Himebaugh, Whitlock and Woodstock. From an earlier story, we learned that prosecutors have chosen not to charge either woman with murder because they're not sure they can prove that charge beyond a reasonable doubt. In cases like this, families may have no chance to hold wrongdoers responsible in the criminal courts. Instead, they can turn to the civil courts, where the standard of proof is slightly lower -- a preponderance of the evidence. This allows them a day in court as well as a chance to recover damages for the pain, suffering and expense of a severe nursing home abuse case.

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March 3, 2010

Study Finds Pneumonia Drug Used in Pennsylvania Nursing Homes May Harm Patients

Pneumonia is one of the most commonly acquired diseases in nursing homes. This is a serious problem for nursing homes, residents, families and Philadelphia nursing home negligence attorneys, because pneumonia can also be a life-threatening disease in older people and people in poor health. In fact, the health care community has made nursing-home-acquired pneumonia a distinct subcategory of pneumonias, because pneumonia in this group is most likely to come from contact with health care facilities, and because pneumonia can have different symptoms in people with dementia and the very elderly.

That is why we were interested in a study about pneumonia published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Researchers in the Netherlands found that a steroid drug commonly used to fight the disease did not improve the patients' health. In fact, the Dutch researchers found that patients taking prednisolone had a significantly greater chance of their symptoms recurring after three days of treatment. The study looked at the use of prednisolone versus a placebo in 213 hospitalized patients with all levels of pneumonia severity. The researchers concluded that prednisolone should not be used routinely.

Our Pennsylvania nursing home neglect attorneys are already slightly suspicious of homes with a large number of pneumonia cases. The preventive measures tend to be common sense measures like hand-washing -- which calls into question the practices at facilities with severe or chronic problems. This study suggests that nursing homes and hospitals that treat nursing home residents should carefully consider whether prenisolone does more harm than good to patients. If more studies turn up this problem, homes should seriously consider stopping routine use of prenisolone altogether.

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March 1, 2010

Supreme Court Turns Down Appeal of Pennsylvania Nursing Home Rights Verdict

Last year, the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided a case very interesting to us as Philadelphia nursing home abuse lawyers. In John J. Kane Regional Centers - Glen Hazel v. Grammer (PDF), the issue was whether patients' families may claim in lawsuits that poor care amounts to a civil rights violation. The Third Circuit decided in July that they could, setting off a controversy in the world of nursing homes and nursing home negligence law. McKnight's Long-Term Care News reported Feb. 24 that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to take up the case, allowing the Third Circuit's decision to stand.

In the original case, Sarah Grammer sued a Pittsburgh-area nursing home, John J. Kane Regional Centers, over the death in its care of her mother, Melvinteen Daniels. She alleged that Daniels was so badly neglected that she developed severe bedsores and malnutrition, leading to sepsis and death. This would form the basis of any Pennsylvania nursing home negligence claim, but Grammer took a different approach. The Federal Nursing Home Reform Amendments guarantee certain rights for nursing home patients, such as the right to be well cared for and free of abuse. Grammer argued that this allowed her to sue under the section of civil law governing civil rights violations. The home countered that the FNHRA do not create rights, but set forth requirements for receiving Medicare funds. The appeals court sided with Grammer.

This case is important for our work as Pennsylvania nursing home neglect attorneys because it opens another avenue to seek redress when a patient has been abused, neglected or otherwise subjected to mistreatment. Most nursing home negligence claims are state court claims, but under this decision, patients may file lawsuits as well. This gives them yet another layer of protection -- and it gives nursing homes yet another incentive to measure up to the reasonable standards laid out by federal law.

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