August 2010 Archives

August 31, 2010

Pennsylvania Families Can Use Nursing Home Compare to Avoid Unsafe Homes

As a Philadelphia nursing home negligence attorney, I was interested in a recent article in the New York Times that discussed a rating system now available to families seeking information about nursing homes. This is an important tool to help families assess these facilities as they make decisions about where they or their loved ones will be cared for. As a Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawyer, I've seen many cases of abuse, neglect and other negligence in nursing homes where profits come before patients, and I know that families need all the help they can get to avoid substandard facilities.

The Nursing Home Compare tool on allows families to find and compare information about every Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing home in the country, using a rating system of one to five stars. One star means that the nursing home is far below average, and five stars indicates that it's far above average, on measures of health inspections, staffing, and quality. It also provides an overall rating based on annual inspections and data reported by nursing home administrators.

Staffing issues are often the basis for claims brought by Philadelphia injury lawyers when a nursing home resident receives substandard care.

Experts advise families seeking nursing homes to use the rating system, in addition to visiting the nursing homes they're considering at varying times of the day and asking the nursing aides how long they've been in their jobs. They also suggest talking to nursing home administrators, other families and the local aging agency's ombudsman. By putting all these sources of information together, families may be able to avoid some of the worst problems that nursing home patients can experience, like bedsores and other injuries that result from understaffing, inexperienced or poorly screened staff, and financial abuse by poorly supervised staff members.

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August 18, 2010

Jury Awards $400,000 to Victim of Negligence by Nursing Home Company Operating in Pennsylvania

Several months ago, I wrote about the sad case of John J. Donahue, a nursing home resident who died in 2005 after his eye was gouged by a metal hook in an accident caused by negligent nursing home staff. A jury in Plymouth Superior Court in Brockton, Mass., has found in favor of Donahue's family and ordered the Embassy House nursing home, where Donahue was hurt, to pay $400,000 plus interest for pain, suffering and disfigurement. As a Philadelphia nursing home negligence attorney, I am pleased to see patients and their families successfully hold negligent nursing home caregivers accountable when they hurt the people they're supposed to protect.

Marlene Owens, 76, of Easton, Mass., has been fighting for years to force Kindred Healthcare to own up to its culpability for harming Donahue, her stepfather. Kindred owned Embassy House at the time of the injury and operates nursing homes all over the United States, with several facilities in Pennsylvania. Donahue was 93 when nursing home staff failed to use a Hoyer lift properly when trying to move him, and his left eye was gouged by a metal hook. His eye had to be removed, and Donahue died of sepsis soon after. Donahue had signed an arbitration agreement that would have prevented him or his estate from suing the nursing home if he were killed or injured there, but at the time he signed it, he was 91 and suffering from delusions. A judge invalidated that agreement in 2009, allowing the lawsuit to go forward. The jury in Plymouth Superior Court agreed with Owens that negligence was a substantial contributing factor to Donahue's injury, although they did not find Kindred Healthcare responsible for his death.

Kindred Healthcare's lawyer said that the chain does still ask patients to sign arbitration agreements like the one Donahue signed, but noted that it is voluntary. Still, in my view as a Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawyer, families should avoid signing these agreements whenever possible. They do not protect the patient's or family's interests; they protect the nursing home from being held responsible for its actions in an open court. Under an arbitration agreement, if a patient is injured or killed because of negligence or abuse by nursing home staff, families cannot turn to the legal system -- they have to go to an arbitrator, a private legal expert whom the company pays to settle the dispute. This is done outside the public eye and generally by someone who is being paid by the nursing home company, casting his or her neutrality into question. As a Philadelphia accident lawyer, I do not believe nursing home companies would steer families into arbitration if they did not believe they would benefit. When a family member's life, health, and dignity are at stake, you should not limit your options by signing an arbitration agreement.

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August 3, 2010

Pennsylvania Family Fights Back Against Scranton Nursing Home's Alleged Negligence

A recent article about a Pennsylvania family's lawsuit against the Jewish Home of Eastern Pennsylvania in Scranton got our attention as Pennsylvania nursing home negligence lawyers. The family of Elizabeth LaCoste, a now-deceased Jewish Home patient, argues that Jewish Home workers' negligence caused her serious injuries before her death in October of 2009. In our view as Philadelphia nursing home negligence attorneys, it's shameful that this accident occurred at all, but it's good that LaCoste's family is holding the Jewish Home accountable for its failure to prevent it.

The accident occurred when Jewish Home patients were in center-city Scranton to watch a musical performance on the afternoon of August 1, 2008. Instead of watching over LaCoste, Jewish Home workers left her alone in a wheelchair on a sloping sidewalk. In the unattended wheelchair, LaCoste careened down a hill, went over the curb, and then flew out of the wheelchair into the street. She suffered a broken collarbone, a head injury, bruises and abrasions. The article did not say whether those injuries contributed to her death 14 months later, or how they may have affected her health afterward.

As I have discussed before, it's unfortunately all too common for accidents like this to occur because of understaffing in nursing homes. In this case, we don't know for sure that understaffing was to blame, but the description of the incident certainly suggests some negligence. Based on my knowledge of other cases we've encountered as Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawyers, understaffing often can result in careless, negligent behavior by workers. Even well-meaning nursing home staff can make serious mistakes when they are spread too thin or are inexperienced in their jobs. As a Philadelphia injury lawyer I have learned that nursing home companies essentially ensure that staff members are inexperienced and spread too thin by paying them so little that they have every incentive to constantly look for better-paying jobs. This is bad for patients as well as for staff members.

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