Report finds one third of patients harmed in skilled nursing facilities

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Estimates that 1,538 patients died in one month alone due to substandard care

A new report released by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is putting the spotlight on skilled nursing facilities across the U.S. According to ProPublica, the report identified a number of startling problems in skilled nursing facilities, namely that one-in-three patients have been harmed in such facilities and that a total of 1,538 patients were estimated to have died in August 2011 due to sub-standard care.

Report finds numerous patient-safety problems

Among other things, the report found that 59 percent of the cases wherein a patient was harmed were preventable and that 22 percent of patients suffered injuries that caused lasting damage.

Problems arose from a number of factors, such as inadequate monitoring, preventable blood clots, improper medication, and fluid imbalances. In 1.5 percent of cases the patient died because the treatment received was improper or insufficient.

Aside from the human toll, these problems are also proving to be a financial drain on the health care system overall. Over half of the patients who were harmed in these facilities were admitted back to hospital, which ended up costing about $208 million for August 2011 alone or the equivalent to 2 percent of Medicare's total inpatient spending.

Skilled nursing facilities take on bigger role

Many hospitals are trying to shorten patient stays, leading to significant growth in the skilled nursing industry. Skilled nursing facilities typically offer care to patients after a hospital stay of three days or more and most of them also function as long-term nursing homes.

In the past most of the attention placed on preventable patient injuries and deaths has concerned hospitals, but the increasing role of skilled nursing facilities in the health care system is highlighting problems that extend well beyond hospitals.

According to Dr. Jonathan Evans, the president of the American Medical Directors Association, part of the problem is due to this rapid rate of growth. Many long term facilities, he contends, have been forced to take on new roles with patients who have more intensive needs. As a result, some facilities have had a difficult time adjusting.

Liability issues can arise from substandard care

As the U.S. population continues to age, the issue of care practices at skilled nursing facilities is only going to become more acute in the years to come. Patients and their families should be able to expect that such facilities will be able to provide competent and diligent care at all times, but as the above report shows reality does not always conform to expectations. Any patient who has been harmed while in a skilled nursing facility may be entitled to compensation from the facility that provided the inadequate care. Such a patient should contact a personal injury lawyer who has experience in nursing home negligence to see what legal avenues are available so that the at-fault parties can be held accountable for their negligence.