Deciding to bring a claim against a nursing home because a family member passed away at one for unclear reasons can be a daunting matter. You may be concerned about the stigma the fact finder or jury may view your claim given the stereotype that nursing homes are for elderly and sick people who do not have long to live. However even if your family member was older and not in the best health, this does not mean they did not deserve the best care possible so they could live out their final years happily. Rather than giving an excuse for the nursing home to provide substandard care, the fact that these homes deal with sick and elderly residents regularly means they need to show extra care and caution for those residents. If not then what are they getting paid for?
What Is The Nursing Home Reform Act and Who Does It Affect?
Fortunately the United States government recognized the rights of an elderly person to live a dignified life in a nursing home, and passed rules and regulations to help ensure this via the Nursing Home Reform Act, otherwise known as the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 (OBRA), 42 CFR 483, et. seq. Also, it is not just the elderly who are staying in the nursing home. Many have rehab units for regular people who are recovering from a surgical procedure so they can get back on their feet and return to their normal life.
Regarding the death of your family member, if it was unexpected or happened in unusual circumstances – such as a family member who was expected to be back on their feet and at home in a couple of weeks following surgery who then suddenly passes away – then there may be a case for nursing home neglect or malpractice. Factors that could play in the death of your loved one could be understaffing at the nursing home, a lack of communication between the nursing staff so serious issues with your loved one are not being followed, or signs and symptoms of a serious, life threatening issue your family member has that are missed by the nursing staff and not reported to the attending doctor. There also may be circumstances where the staff did report issues to the attending doctor, but the attending did not follow up on them. In this circumstance the focus of your claim may be on the attending doctor instead of the nursing home.
How Can I Prove The Nursing Home Was Responsible For My Family Member’s Death?
How do you prove that your family member’s death was caused by the nursing home though? In some instances a state’s Department of Health will get involved first and investigate any violations of federal and state regulations in the care of your family member. As we have stated in past blog posts, in Pennsylvania you can call the Department of Health at 800-254-5164, fax 717-772-2163, email firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out an online complaint form with the Department of Health here: http://www.health.pa.gov/facilities/nursinghomes/Pages/Complaints.aspx#.WwL1eUgvwdU
Likewise in New Jersey you can file online or call the complaint hotline available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: 1-800-792-9770.
Besides having the Department of Health investigate, you will need to get your family member’s records from the nursing home. If you have concerns about getting them yourself – such as the nursing home not providing you with all of your family member’s records – an attorney experienced in handling nursing home abuse and neglect cases will be able to obtain them via medical authorizations which you will need to sign. Likewise, you will need to set up an estate for your family member and have someone named administrator of it (or there will be an executor if a will is involved). The executor or administrator of the estate will act as the plaintiff in the case and represent the interests of your family member’s estate.
The administrator will also have authority to sign off on authorizations to get the nursing home’s records. Finally the case will have to be reviewed by nursing home and medical experts to determine if there was nursing home negligence, and if this negligence caused your family member’s death.
The attorneys at the Thistle Law Firm are experienced at handling nursing home malpractice and neglect cases. If you lost a family member at a nursing home, the attorneys at the Thistle Law Firm are here to take your call at 215-525-6824.