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Florida's Nursing Homes: A Surfeit Of Injuries

Injuries are common in nursing homes and, indeed, injury-related deaths are common in nursing homes as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 1,800 adults living in assisted care facilities die from fall-related injuries each year, and many more sustain permanently disabling injuries.

Many of these injuries and fatalities are difficult, if not impossible, to prevent. Increasingly, though, nursing homes are finding themselves in legal trouble for running operations that are inadequately safe. Incidents of abuse and negligence are becoming more and more common, and Florida in particular is rife with problematic facilities.

Broken bones, broken teeth, sunburn, blisters and death

The state's Department of Children and Families recently brought one nursing home under investigation following the unusual death of a resident. The resident, an immobilized 65-year-old male, was left out in the sun for several hours, incurred second-degree burns and blisters, and ultimately died of heart failure.

It is uncertain whether the facility is liable for his death. Questions surrounding how long the resident was outside, and whether he had any underlying medical issues, remain unanswered.

Yet the nursing home has faced legal repercussions before. An article in the Tampa Bay Times details that it has settled disputes with the state's Agency for Health Care Administration after a 93-year-old resident fell from a wheelchair lift and died from bleeding in the brain. The facility has also settled cases involving the mistreatment of residents with dental problems, the mistreatment of a resident with untreated leg fractures, and injuries suffered by a resident who fell from his wheelchair. (Moreover, the home's parent company paid nearly $1 million to settle allegations of Medicare fraud with the federal government.)

When fault is difficult to determine

This is an especially egregious case, but injuries are a frequent occurrence at nursing homes, and it is often difficult to parse out who's at fault. The CDC reports that between half and three-quarters of nursing home residents fall each year; as forecasts predict the number of residents to more than double by 2030, it seems likely that the number of injuries will rise as well.

Research suggests that the most common cause of injuries is general frailty. But environmental hazards created by the facilities themselves--such as wet floors, poor lighting, incorrect bed heights, and improperly maintained equipment--cause a number of injuries as well, to say nothing of outright abuse and neglect. As our culture comes to rely more and more on these institutions, we must make sure to keep them accountable; it is the only way to keep the nursing homes safe.

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