October 2011 Archives

October 24, 2011

Court Upholds Penalties Against Nursing Home That Evicted HIV-Positive Woman - Canal Side Manor v. PHRC


As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I was interested to see a case about an issue that's relatively underreported: discrimination in nursing homes. According to the Allentown Morning Call, a Pennsylvania court has ruled in favor of a woman who said she was kicked out of a Walnutport nursing home when the staff discovered that she has HIV. G.D., who is 36 and also suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, ended up in a locked psychiatric ward because she had nowhere else to go. Her attorney said this was a textbook example of the harm discrimination causes. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission won a court judgment ordering Canal Side Care Manor and its owner, Lakshmi Kademani, to pay damages to G.D. and a fine to the state. In its ruling, the court also found that Kademani filed a frivolous appeal and was taking steps to hide her assets from the court.

G.D. went to Canal Side after her group home recommended more care than it could provide. She did not expressly tell Canal Side that she had HIV, but a Canal Side employee discovered it when asking what certain medications were for. Kademani, concerned abut HIV transmission through G.D.'s urinary incontinence, then gave G.D. 24 hours to leave. G.D.'s healthcare team told Kademani that there was no serious risk with proper precautions, which were already in place. Nonetheless, G.D. was kicked out, and because her family was unable to provide the care she needs, ended up in "lockdown" at a mental hospital. G.D.'s sister filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, which eventually ruled for G.D., fining Canal Side $5,000 and ordering $50,000 more in damages to G.D. Canal Side and Kademani appealed. The Commonwealth Court was unimpressed with the appeal, finding that it was meritless, legally inadequate and intended to delay paying the damages. Thus, it ordered attorney fees for G.D.'s appeal as well.

As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I'm pleased to see a decision upholding the rights of a woman with a limited ability to advocate for herself. As the article points out, the effects of the discrimination against G.D. were not minor. After she was evicted from the nursing home, her family tried for a month or more to provide care, even though they didn't have the special expertise necessary for mental illness, HIV and incontinence. After that failed, G.D. ended up in a mental hospital, imprisoned and unable to live a full life. When nursing home patients stay in their homes, discrimination may still rob them of adequate medical care. For example, studies document that African Americans tend to be in different and lower-quality homes than white patients. This kind of indifference can easily lead to Pennsylvania nursing home abuse and neglect. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I believe our elderly and disabled people deserve better.

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October 18, 2011

Family in Quadrangle Nursing Home Abuse Case Files Lawsuit Against Nursing Home


I've written several times before on this blog about the local nursing home scandal centered around the Quadrangle nursing home in Delaware County. In May, I mentioned that the family of Lois McCallister announced plans to sue the Quadrangle's parent company, Sunrise Senior Living, for negligence in the case. As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I was interested to see articles last week announcing that McCallister's daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Paul French, have filed their suit. According to the Delaware County Daily Times, the Frenches filed their complaint Oct. 12 alleging that Sunrise negligently failed to train workers, negligently kept the home understaffed and failed to follow state regulations intended to protect vulnerable residents. They seek more than $50,000 in damages, but the Frenches said at a press conference that they really want to ensure that no other nursing home resident suffers in the same way.

The Frenches began to suspect the abuse after McCallister made comments suggesting it and even showed physical injuries. Quadrangle employees told them the complaints were probably a result of McCallister's dementia, but Paul French bought a "nanny cam" disguised as a clock and put it in McCallister's room. The resulting video showed three Quadrangle employees physically abusing McCallister, refusing to let her get dressed and making fun of her as she got upset. All three of them -- Samirah Traynham, Ayesha Muhammed and Tyrina Griffin -- have been fired and are awaiting a Nov. 14 trial on charges of assault, harassment and more. McCallister has since moved in with the Frenches, but Mary French said her mother still begs family members not to hurt her as they say goodnight. Paul French said at the conference that since the story went public, he'd gotten a letter from the husband of another Quadrangle resident, thanking them for the intervention because he believes care in the dementia unit is now better than it had been for the past two years.

As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I am not at all surprised. When a media spotlight is shined on a nursing home, it frequently gets its act together, if only for the cameras. In this case, however, the Quadrangle was answering to state regulators as well: The state Department of Public Welfare revoked its license in April. That action was partly a reaction to McCallister's abuse and the Quadrangle's failure to report it, but articles at the time outlined other violations, including withholding prescribed medication, giving unprescribed medication, failure to conduct required employee background checks and more. A few years before, Sunrise had been disciplined for allowing dementia patients to consume paint and antibacterial cleaner. All of these forms of Pennsylvania nursing home abuse and neglect threaten the lives of people who are supposed to be cared for. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I suspect the French family's lawsuit is right to ascribe many of the problems to cost-cutting -- but for $8,000 a month, homes should do better.

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October 10, 2011

Study Finds African Americans Less Likely to Get Flu Shots in Nursing Homes Than Whites


A recent article about race-based differences in care caught my eye as a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer. According to HealthDay News, a study by Brown University has found that African American nursing home patients are 23 percent less likely than white residents to get a flu vaccination. In fact, the vaccination rate for all groups fall short of Medicaid and Medicare's target rate of 90 percent, at 82.75 percent. But that number for white residents was 83.46, while for African Americans it was 77.75 percent. Researchers suggested several explanations for the disparity, including a higher rate of refusal among African Americans as well as disparities in care.

The numbers come from annual patient records at 14,000 American nursing homes, during the flu seasons from late 2006 to early 2009. The results appear in the October issue of the journal Health Affairs. In a press release from Brown, study co-author Vincent Mor said the two racial groups often end up in different nursing homes, and that evidence suggests the ones serving African Americans are lower in quality. However, the researchers found a consistent difference in the groups' vaccination rates even within the same homes -- on average, African Americans were 15 percent less likely to be vaccinated than their white neighbors. Part of the problem could also have to do with vaccination refusal, the article noted; in 2008-2009, 12.88 percent of African Americans refused the vaccine, while only 8.93 percent of whites did. The authors suggested that future studies look into whether the refusals are influenced by the way the vaccination is offered.

The vaccine refusal rate is certainly interesting and worth following up on. But as a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I strongly suspect nursing home quality has much to do with the disparity. In my line of work, I see the effects of budget cuts on quality of care. When there are fewer staff members or less well-trained staff members, those who remain have to do more with less, and this can make it easy to forget or neglect important things, even to the point of Pennsylvania nursing home abuse. It can also make tempers shorter thanks to stress. All of this makes it more likely that something important but routine like a flu shot will be left by the wayside. This is especially a shame because the flu is particularly dangerous for older and immune-compromised people, who can easily be dehydrated by too much vomiting or diarrhea. Failing to address this is a dangerous type of neglect. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I hope homes are resolved to do better this flu season.

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October 4, 2011

Pittsburgh-Area Nursing Home Sued for Negligence Allegedly Leading to Death From Bedsores


As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I was interested to see a recent news item about a nursing home in the Pittsburgh region facing a lawsuit. According to the Altoona Mirror, the family of Alfred Pelligrino has sued the Valley View Nursing Home of Blair County, alleging Pelligrino died of complications from an improperly treated bedsore. Pelligrino suffered from Pick's disease, a neurological disorder that eventually leads to death, but does not put sufferers at high risk for pressure sores. Nonetheless, the family alleges that Valley View, which is county-owned but run by a private contractor, failed to take steps to prevent the sores, then failed to treat them before they caused an infection that led to kidney and heart failure. They are requesting payment of the medical expenses related to Pelligrino's illness as well as damages for his pain and suffering and their loss.

When Pelligrino entered the home in July of 2009, he was using a wheeled walker and could talk to nursing home staff. He had no skin problems at the time. The first pressure sores showed up in October of that year, and he was taken to a local hospital's wound clinic multiple times between then and January of 2010. The family transferred him to another home, the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home, in February of 2010, but the wounds did not improve. According to the lawsuit, Pelligrino's bedsores were so deep that they needed surgery to heal. The open wounds caused an infection that triggered congestive heart failure, which in turn caused kidney failure. The family's lawsut, filed on behalf of wife Virginia Pelligrino, charges Valley View with substandard care and failure to prevent the bedsores.

As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I would be interested to read more about these allegations. Because Pelligrino was relatively mobile when he entered the home, he was tagged as a low-risk patient for pressure sores. It's possible that this lulled the home's employees into a false sense of security. It's also possible that he became less mobile after entering the home, due to restrictions on his movements, health deterioration or inappropriate medication -- which unfortunately is not uncommon. But whatever the reason, the risk of bedsores for nursing home patients is well known, and so is the relatively simple method of preventing them. Failure to take those steps is a form of Pennsylvania nursing home abuse and neglect (as would be the inappropriate drugs). As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I hope any allegations of this kind of impropriety come out in the trial, so western Pennsylvania families can be warned about any potential risks.

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