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Documentary Revealed Problems with Bedsores in California Assisted Living Facilities


Bedsores or pressure ulcers are common in nursing homes, with a 2009 report from the California Senate Office of Research indicating that 14.9 percent of high-risk residents experienced bedsores in California nursing homes in 2007.  Recently, a PBS documentary revealed that patients in assisted living facilities may also be at high risk of bedsores and may not receive the proper care from the facilities for a variety of reasons. A California injury attorney examines the problem. 


Pressure ulcers are wounds that develop when there is continuous and unrelieved pressure on the skin. Such pressure can come from lying in one place for too long with the body’s weight pressing the skin into the mattress.  Wheelchair-bound patients are also at risk of bedsores from sitting in one place for too long.  While bedsores can form anywhere on the body where there is too much pressure, the ulcers are more likely to develop over bony areas, including the back of the head, the back, the shoulder, the elbow, the hip and the heel. 


According to the CDC, nursing home residents with high immobility were more likely to develop bedsores, as were patients who had lost a significant amount of weight.  Bladder and bowel incontinence was also a risk factor for bedsores, as was taking more than eight medications.  


The biggest risk factor for the development of bedsores is failing to frequently change positions when bedridden or wheelchair-bound. Nursing homes are aware of the risks of failing to move patients and are expected to use reasonable precautions to prevent the development of bedsores, which generally includes turning patients every two hours and using special pressure-relieving mattresses or wheelchairs. If a nursing home fails to provide necessary care to prevent bedsores, it can be held legally responsible for injury to the patient. 


“When bedsores develop, nursing homes must provide prompt medical assistance,” explained the California injury attorney. “Failure to do so could result in the homes being held liable for any resulting harm to the patient.”


Bedsores in Assisting Living Facilities


Assisted living facilities are intended to provide minimal care and assistance to residents who are not able to live on their own but are not yet in need of the more intensive care provided in a nursing home. The services provided to residents in assisted living facilities can vary and may include meals and assistance with some basic medical needs.  There are much fewer state laws and regulations applicable to assisted living facilities than to nursing homes.


A PBS Frontline documentary revealed the substandard conditions in a California assisted living facility called Emerald Hills. The facility was run by Emeritus, one of the nation’s largest operators of assisted living facilities throughout the United States. The Emeritus policies encouraged residents to stay in the assisted living facilities for as long as possible. The policies and practices focused on discouraging residents from leaving or going “out the back door.” These policies took a dangerous turn in many cases, including staff at Emerald Hills willfully hiding the severe bedsores on one patient named Joan, explained the California injury attorney. 


Joan’s condition began as a small sore but became progressively worse, with one ulcer ultimately eroding the skin on her right buttock.  Staff at the facility attempted to treat the problem by rubbing cream into the sores but was untrained and had no ability to provide the type of care that Joan needed. The sores were hidden from Joan’s family and from a visiting nurse who was treating an ulcer on Joan’s foot.  Joan died as a result of the complications and problems she faced from the substandard care. 


Emeritus paid a steep price for hiding Joan’s condition in order to keep her in the facility. The jurors awarded her family $22.9 million in punitive damages for a total jury award of $23 million.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t make up for what Emeritus did, and there are likely many more cases of patients in assisted living facilities who are not receiving the care they need. 


Patients who suffer injury or families who have lost loved ones due to the negligence of nursing homes or assisted living facilities have rights under California law and recourse through the civil justice system. For more information on the civil claims process, or to speak with a California injury attorney, please call 866-981-5596. 

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