Nursing Home Infection Lawyer
As the United States deals with the spread of the COVID-19 virus, nursing home residents are at high risk of infection. When people live close together, they are more likely to become sick due to person to person transmission of many infectious diseases. There are many steps that facilities and family members can take to prevent the spread of disease and infection in nursing homes and long term care facilities.
According to the CDC, “Over 4 million Americans are admitted to or reside in nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities each year and nearly one million persons reside in assisted living facilities.” It is estimated that as many as one to three million residents in long-term care facilities suffer from infections each year and as many as 380,000 residents die each year due to infection. This unacceptably high number of infections is due to nursing homes failing to follow proper infection control procedures or providing substandard care to vulnerable elderly residents.What Are Most Common Infections in Nursing Homes?
- Urinary tract infections (UTI) – These are the most common type of infection in nursing homes. They are often the result of poor hygiene procedures and a lack of hygiene, training, and supervision when nursing home employees are inserting catheters for residents. About 3-7 percent of nursing home residents with a catheter will get a urinary tract infection for every day that the catheter remains in place. After one month, about 100 percent of residents will have bacteria in their urine.
- Influenza – The flu can spread from person to person quickly in a nursing home due to proximity to other patients, frequent interactions with staff and visitors, and inadequate handwashing and disinfecting of common areas. The flu can have deadly consequences among the elderly and nursing home residents, but, this infection is one of the most preventable. Studies show that influenza rates go down in nursing homes when more patients and staff receive an annual flu shot.
- Skin and soft tissue infections – Skin infections are typically the result of poor hygiene and lack of proper procedure for checking residents’ skin and turning patients over to prevent infection. Elderly nursing home residents are especially predisposed to getting these kinds of infections due to the various changes in the skin as a result of aging. Typical nursing home skin infections include cellulitis, necrotizing fasciitis, and erysipelas. Chronic wound infections include vascular ulcers and diabetic wound infections. Skin infections can lead to a breakdown in the skin and pressure ulcers can form. Infected pressure ulcers can lead to additional infections in the bone, skin, and blood, and can even result in death.
- Pneumonia – UTIs may be the most common infection in nursing homes, but pneumonia is the most dangerous. In nursing homes, an average of 33 out of 1000 residents will get pneumonia, and patients with feeding tubes have a substantially higher risk of infection. Residents with poor oral hygiene and dental plaque are also at increased risk of developing pneumonia. And when senior citizens get pneumonia, the consequences can be serious. Pneumonia is the leading cause of hospitalization and death at nursing homes.
- Gastrointestinal infections – Gastrointestinal infections are common in nursing homes due to age-related changes in gastrointestinal flora and changes to digestion. Two of the most common are Helicobacter pylori, which may cause fever, nausea and upper abdominal pain, and Clostridium difficile, a diarrhea-causing infection, which usually occurs due to antibiotic treatments that suppress healthy gastrointestinal flora. Between 8 and 33 percent of nursing home residents treated with antibiotics will get a secondary infection with Clostridium difficile. Since 2000, Clostridium difficile has been responsible for a disproportionate number of deaths in patients over 65.
Nursing home residents are often exposed to infectious disease because a nursing home and its employees are not following proper procedure and are ignoring important hygiene rules. Common sources of infection include: contaminated ventilators, catheters, feeding tubes, and shared medical equipment, as well as common areas, fellow residents, visitors, and staff.How Infections Spread in Nursing Homes
There are several ways that infections can spread in a nursing home, including:
- Direct contact with an infected person through contact with infected blood or bodily fluids. Contact may involve another resident, a staff member, or a visitor.
- Indirectly through touching a contaminated surface such as a door handle, phone, remote control, or medical equipment. Contaminated surfaces may be in common areas or patient rooms.
- In the air as small droplets or tiny aerosol particles spread by an infected person sneezing or coughing.
- Person to person. This happens when a person touches a contaminated surface and then touches another person without washing his or her hands.
Germs can enter the body through the nose, eyes, mouth or broken skin. This is why experts recommend frequent handwashing and refraining from touching your face.Why Do Outbreaks Occur in Nursing Homes?
Nursing homes are especially susceptible to infectious outbreaks because:
- Infectious agents can survive for hours or days in the air and on surfaces
- Staff, visitors, and residents may be infectious for days without knowing
- Vulnerable residents have frequent contact with visitors and staff who can bring infections in from the outside.
- Nursing home residents, because of their age and underlying health conditions, are more prone to infections.
- Staff may not be properly trained to prevent infections or the spread of infections.
- Short staffing may result in staff members caring for many patients in one day without time to follow infection prevention protocol in between patients.
- Nursing homes may not have enough staff to regularly clean and sanitize the facility.
- Vulnerable seniors are living in close proximity to one another.
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, these simple steps can help reduce deadly and costly infections.
- Hand Hygiene - Nursing home staff must wash their hands in between every patient, just like doctors and nurses. Unfortunately, healthcare workers only adhere to proper hand hygiene procedures approximately 40% of the time. Handwashing is an essential part of preventing the spread of infections.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) - Face masks, gloves, gowns and eye protection can reduce the spread of infection from patients to healthcare workers or from patients to staff and then on to other patients. Especially during an infectious outbreak, it is critical that nursing home staff wear PPE.
- Following prevention practices - Although most healthcare professionals know the proper infection control procedures, they often do not follow them regularly. This is unacceptable, and no excuse--whether it be lack of time or assumptions that a patient is not infected-- is a justifiable reason to ignore prevention protocol.
- Nursing home cleanliness - Continuous and rigorous cleaning of all shared surfaces in a nursing home is essential, as is disinfecting of all medical equipment, and properly disposing of used patient care items.
- Wash your hands and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer throughout the day, especially before meals or social interaction.
- Cover any open wound with a bandage. If your bandages need to be changed, notify a nurse immediately.
- Cover your mouth with tissues or your elbow if you cough or sneeze. When using tissues, dispose of them after a single use.
- Don’t share your personal items or food with other residents.
- Wear a mask if you have an infection.
- Wash hands before, during and after each visit.
- Wear a mask if you are visiting someone that has an infection that can be spread to others through the air (for example, the flu).
- If you feel that you are sick, do not visit your family member. Remember that your simple cold could lead to something more serious for your grandparents.
- Discuss with the Nursing Home Administrator or Director of Nursing what the facility’s hygiene, infection prevention, and cleanliness procedures are and how they are implemented.
If your family member or loved one contracts an infection as a result of nursing home neglect or improper infection prevention procedures, you should make sure they get proper medical care, and then find a new facility for your loved one, if possible. Equally important is to consult with a lawyer. The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act established a resident bill of rights for every long-term care patient. If a nursing home does not provide patients with a clean, safe, comfortable, and homelike environment--and a resident is made ill or worse as a result--he or she may be entitled to hold the nursing home responsible. Call the nursing home negligence attorneys at The Collins Law Firm at (630) 527-1595 for a FREE consultation.