Nursing homes provide necessary services as life-altering injuries and/or disease too often render us unable to care for ourselves. While most nursing homes attempt to provide adequate services, residents often suffer from abuse and/or neglect. Bedsores, falls, unexplained bruising, choking on food, dehydration and/or excessive sleeping might be symptoms of abuse and/or neglect.
If you have a loved one in a nursing home make sure they give you, or someone who visits frequently, their HIPAA authorization for access to their medical records. Visit often and ask questions. If your loved one is unresponsive or sleeping during your visits, and this is a recent development, check their medications for anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications. If these medications have been added, when the patient never needed them in the past, it can be an indication of chemical management of patients. Chemical management of patients is only necessary under a very rare and limited set of circumstances. Ask when your loved one is most alert, i.e. first thing in the morning. Visit during that time so you can talk with the patient and ask how they are doing and if their needs are being met.
Most people, unfortunately, have little interest in learning about nursing homes until the need is eminent. By that time, a loved one is most likely being released from a hospital and the duty to find a good facility for rehab or permanent residence falls on a family member.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) hosts the website www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare which gathers mostly volunteer information from nursing homes and offers a five-star rating system based on that information. This system is helpful but far from an adequate indicator of the quality of care provided. The same website provides access to recent inspections which reveal “Health Inspection” and “Complaint Inspection” results which can be viewed and read in detail. It also provides access to “Penalties” reflecting any recent federal fines imposed and/or payment denials. This is far more reliable and indicative of quality of care than the mostly volunteer information provided in the five-star rating system.
I advise my clients to make sure the loved one is admitted to the nursing home by someone who DOES NOT have the patient’s power-of-attorney (of any kind). This is because nursing homes, which have a reason to fear litigation, often have the admitting person sign away the patient’s right to access the courts in the event of abuse or neglect. It will usually be accomplished through an AGREEMENT TO ARBITRATE DISPUTES or an AGREEMENT TO MEDIATE DISPUTES. The right of access to the courts CANNOT be signed away, in Georgia, by an admitting person who DOES NOT HAVE THE LEGAL AUTHORITY to relinquish the right, i.e. a power-of-attorney. I advise clients to tell the admissions person that they do not feel comfortable signing such an agreement and to respectfully refuse to sign it. I also advise that they get a complete copy of everything they signed, staple or clip the pages together, insure that the AGREEMENT TO ARBITRATE/MEDIATE is unsigned and store the package it in a safe place.
If you believe your loved one was abused or neglected by a Georgia nursing home and you have what you believe to be proof of that abuse or neglect I will be glad to review your evidence and give you my opinion of whether I believe it is a case I can win at trial. I will grant this review even if other law firms have declined your case so long as the case is not time barred or subject to being time barred in the near future.
If your loved one died as the result of what you believe to be abuse or neglect HAVE A VERY THOROUGH AUTOPSY CONDUCTED before burial or cremation without fail.
No attorney/client relationship exists until a written Representation Agreement has been fully executed.