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How to Identify, Respond and Prevent Nursing Home Pressure Sores

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Bed sores, also commonly known as “pressure ulcers,” are one of the most common conditions faced by nursing home residents. A comprehensive study carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested up to 28% of elders in long-term care suffer from bed sores, and their presence is one of the surest signs of insufficient, neglectful or abusive care in a facility.

Our firm has witnessed a number of tragic incidents, including permanent disfigurement and death, as a result of these ulcers, made all the more senseless by the fact they are highly preventable with proper hygiene and patient safeguards. In fact, standard training for nursing home staff in the United States includes how to both prevent and respond to pressure sores, making advance-stage ulcers in an elderly resident especially appalling.

When you are concerned about the hygiene levels in an elderly loved one’s facility or know they have mobility issues that place them at higher risk, here’s what you should know about bed sores, including when to seek legal advice.

Types and Severity of Bed Sores

You will likely hear bed sores being described in “stages,” which indicates the severity or complexity of the injuries:

  • Stage 1 sores, typically superficial, with redness but no breaks in the skin. Once the pressure has been relieved off a Stage 1 bedsore, it typically heals in a few days on its own, without the need for other interventions.
  • Stage 2 sores, the most common in long-term care facilities, have an intermediate level of seriousness. These sores typically resemble scrapes, blisters or craters. While they generally heal in just over a month, the CDC suggests over a third of nursing home residents with Stage 2 sores need to receive specialized wound care.
  • Stage 3 sores, which cause deep grooves or craters in the skin, may ooze pus or emit bad odors. These will generally require antibiotic treatment and can take between 1-4 months to fully heal.
  • Stage 4 sores, a more emergent situation where damage has gone down to the tendon or bone. These will look very unsightly and show other signs of infection, such as the skin changing colors, pus, and foul odors. Surgery or other medical intervention may be required, sometimes including amputation of a limb.

What Causes Bed Sores in Nursing Homes?

Mobility issues are a frequent cause of ulcers. Residents who are confined to seated or lying positions need to be turned and moved frequently to prevent too much pressure being placed on the skin.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common risk areas for patients in bed are the back or sides of the head, shoulder blades, hips, heels, ankles and skin behind the knees. The tailbone and buttocks are especially common for nursing home residents in wheelchairs.

There are other, lesser-known risk factors. Urinary incontinence, for example, can make the skin moister and more fragile, increasing the chance of an elder developing ulcers. While sensory impairments that interfere with a resident’s ability to feel pain do not cause pressure sores, these residents may not be able to tell that they have an ulcer.

Can Bed Sores Be Prevented?

Developing bed sores is not an inevitability for nursing home residents, and facilities should be expected to do all they can to ensure patient safety and wellbeing. This includes robust, industry-standard hygiene measures, including regular cleaning and disinfecting to prevent the spread of harmful germs around the nursing home, and regular wellbeing checks for every resident.

Residents with mobility issues who cannot move on their own should be regularly turned and re-positioned in bed, alternating between sides at least every two hours. Whether you are visiting your loved one virtually or in-person, ask a nurse or other member of staff on duty the last time the elder was moved or had exercise.

The use of special padding in bed, as well as regular cleaning and moisturizing of the skin, are also helpful to prevent the development of ulcers.

When Your Loved One Is Affected

Resist the temptation to “diagnose” or identify a sore by yourself, as the ulcer could be more severe than it appears. Seek the advice of a medical professional right away when you know your loved one has a bed sore.

Bed sores can be very dangerous, and resolving them with the necessary medical treatment prohibitively expensive. The federal government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates the cost of treating patients with pressure ulcers ranges from just under $21,000 to nearly $152,000.

Don’t delay getting legal advice when you know your loved one has developed a sore that requires treatment. The experienced legal professionals at Jehl Law Group are here for you, and we’re just a consultation away.