While the most frequent type of abuse and neglect reported in older patients tends to be physical abuse, the majority of mistreatment involves neglect or quality-of-life issues. When a caregiver fails to properly tend to a patient an infectious disease can set in. Infectious diseases account for one third of all deaths in people 65 years and older. Despite advances in antibiotic therapies, infectious diseases continue to be a major cause of death in older adults. Further frustrating the matter is that infections do not present themselves the same way in older patients. Nonspecific complaints and subtle changes in their cognitive impairments, as well as weight loss, are some of the signs indicating that an infection has set in older adults. The role of a caregiver is all that more important in tracking any physical and mental changes in their patients. It is not uncommon for a patient to form an infection especially when a catheter is being used, as was the case in Schoemaker v. Ganon, et al.
In October 2008, the plaintiff Shannon Schoemaker was receiving at home care serviced by defendants Concordia Hospital, Inc., and their agents. On October 13, 2008, Ms. Schoemaker was being fed through an indwelling catheter, the nurse attending to her, nurse Yapp, indicated that there were signs of redness at the site of the catheter. Despite the increase in infectious caused by a catheter and that Ms. Schoemaker exhibited early signs of a possible infection, nurse Yapp failed to take any further steps. There were no plans in place for a follow up even though Ms. Schoemaker displayed signs of a catheter-related line infection. In fact the nurse had no intention of checking on Ms. Schoemaker until eight days later. Two days after nurse Yapp indicated redness at the site of the catheter, Ms. Schoemaker called Concordia Hospital, Inc. Hospital Home Care as Ms. Schoemaker had developed an infection that progressed and rapidly worsened. When Nurse Yapp returned Ms. Schoemaker was in acute respiratory distress with mottled lower legs, purple nail beds, lips, and nose. Ms. Schoemaker was hospitalized for forty-two days and had multiple surgeries where both of her legs were amputated, as well as the tip of her nose, and her left pinky finger.
Before the Court of Common Pleas in Lehigh County the jury rendered a verdict in favor of Ms. Schoemaker where they found the defendants liable. The jury awarded a $23 million in damages to Ms. Schoemaker. While defense argued that the harm Ms. Schoemaker suffered was not causally connected to the infection at her catheter site, the jury concluded that the plaintiff was not contributorily negligent. This verdict is among the highest ever for a medical malpractice case in Lehigh County and among the highest in all of Pennsylvania. It goes to prove the importance of a quality caretaker, and how their decisions and the quality of care rendered can have life or death consequences for elder patients in their care.