December 2010 Archives

December 21, 2010

Study Finds Disclosing Errors Won't Create More Pennsylvania Nursing Home Lawsuits

As Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers, we were very interested to see an article about a study saying there's some benefit and no risk when doctors disclose their mistakes to patients. American Medical News, a publication of the American Medical Association, reported Dec. 15 on a study by a team at George Mason University. Led by Lorens A. Helmchen, a professor of health administration and policy, the team polled adult patients in Illinois about whether they'd be more likely to sue, or more likely to recommend the hospital, if the hospital admitted a medical error and provided financial compensation. The results: patients said they'd be no more or less likely to sue, but would be twice as likely to recommend the health care provider. Helmchen said disclosure might improve patients' perception of the institution's quality.

Helmchen's team is working with the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality on a three-year project examining whether a disclosure and compensation model used in Michigan can work elsewhere. The University of Michigan has followed this model for nine years and discovered that it actually reduces litigation costs. This is the opposite of what many nursing homes, doctors and other health care providers tend to think, as Helmchen noted. The poll of 1,018 Illinois adults found that 27 percent would still consider filing a medical malpractice claim, if the institution responsible admitted the error and offered financial compensation. Helmchen said these results showed no evidence that admitting the error increased litigation. However, nearly 40 percent said they would still recommend the provider even after a mistake, if the mistake was disclosed and compensation was offered. And only 10 percent said they believed their doctors were likely to admit a mistake on their own.

Our Philadelphia injury lawyers aren't surprised. It seems clear to us that it's hard to trust people or institutions that you do not believe are willing to tell you the truth. Admitting a mistake goes a long way toward helping the victim of that mistake believe you are dealing with him or her honestly -- and doing the best you can to ensure it won't happen again. We find the same patterns in our work as Pennsylvania nursing home lawyers. Patients' families, and juries, understand that nursing homes are busy places and sometimes mistakes happen. But when homes try to cover up Pennsylvania nursing home abuse, neglect or serious mistakes, juries and families tend to see it as unwillingness to even recognize the problem, never mind make amends and try to protect others.

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December 14, 2010

Senate Committee Hears Testimony on Overuse of Antipsychotics in Nursing Homes

As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I'm very concerned about the overuse of powerful antipsychotic medications in nursing homes. So I was pleased to see a MedPage Today article Dec. 9 showing that patient advocates have echoed those concerns in Congressional panel. The Senate Aging Committee invited leaders in the profession of nursing and a nursing home reform advocate to discuss this issue and how it could be affected by the aging of America's population. As baby boomers move into retirement, the panelists said, over-medication of dementia patients is a growing issue. In fact, Dr. Patricia Grady of the National Institute of Nursing Research said people in her field felt "we're headed in a very fast train toward the end of a cliff."

Panelists agreed that dementia patients are at risk of over-medication because they can be verbally or physically difficult. These patients can't express themselves clearly, however, which raises the risk of unnecessary medication. Christine Kovach, a professor of nursing at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, talked about one patient who was given antipsychotics after she started resisting staff members who tried to move her. Almost four weeks later, staff members X-rayed the patient and discovered that her hip was broken. Patricia McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, said her own mother had been given the powerful psychiatric medication Risperdal after being placed in a nursing home for the temporary care of a broken hip. Not only did her mother not need it, McGinnis said, but the home didn't contact any her or any of her siblings for informed consent. She suggested several non-medication ways to address dementia patients' behavior problems, including understanding the patient's past and personality and ensuring that they consistently have the same caregivers.

The article quotes outside medical experts who claim the overuse of psychiatric medication is not a serious problem. As a Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawyer, I suspect neither of the people quoted are familiar with actual practices at nursing homes. While dementia patients can genuinely have psychotic symptoms, many homes start patients on antipsychotics as soon as they enter the home, or as soon as they show any sign of making staff members' jobs more difficult. Because antipsychotics are powerful drugs that change patients' brain chemistry, this is not just a waste. It can actually pose a risk to the patient, from drug interactions or serious side effects like diabetes and tardive dyskinesia. When this is done for the convenience of the staff, it's a form of Pennsylvania nursing home abuse that patients and families should not permit.

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December 7, 2010

Worker Sentenced for Abuse at Nursing Home Owned by Philadelphia Company

An article on abuse at a Massachusetts nursing home recently caught my eye as a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer. The Berkshire Eagle, a newspaper in western Massachusetts, reported Dec. 3 that a former employee of a Pittsfield nursing home was sentenced to two years of probation and a suspended sentence for physically assaulting an 81-year-old patient with dementia. Sandra E. Yankey, 46, pleaded guilty to assault on Marie Jean Oppermann at Springside Nursing Home on Aug. 12 of this year. Oppermann died a month after the assault, of causes not considered related. The assault was the first of two reported incidents of abuse at Springside, triggering structural changes from the home's parent company in suburban Philadelphia, Genesis Healthcare Corp.

According to witnesses, Yankey punched Oppermann at least twice, pulled her hair, yanked her head from side to side and verbally berated her. Oppermann had dementia and was confined to a wheelchair. Other staff members present stepped between the two women and physically removed Yankey from the room after she refused to leave on her own. Oppermann later seemed bewildered and upset, staff members said, complained of pain in her left arm and had a tuft of hair in her lap. Yankey was immediately fired and later charged with felony assault. It was later discovered that she also had a past criminal conviction. After that incident, a staff member came forward to report another abuse incident in which a different employee stuffed a sock in the mouth of a blind, elderly dementia patient and told her to shut up. That employee was also fired. The man who was director of the home at the time no longer works there.

This article points out several times that Yankey will not go to jail or prison as long as she keeps to the terms of her probation. As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I understand very well that this outcome could be frustrating to families like the Oppermanns. Pennsylvania nursing home abuse is a crime against Pennsylvanians who can't defend themselves -- and often can't even protest their mistreatment -- and should be taken very seriously. Fortunately, families that aren't satisfied with the criminal justice system have another way to seek justice: filing a lawsuit in the civil courts. A Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer can help clients hold negligent caregivers and nursing home companies responsible for their actions. That includes all of the physical, emotional and financial effects on the victims and their families.

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