Inadequate Nursing Home Staffing Puts Elderly Patients at Higher Risk of Starvation by Malnutrition
Not all nursing home neglect and abuse involves visible scars, physical abuse, or telltale signs like bed sores. Some serious conditions can result from improper care, lack of attention, or poorly trained staff. One such serious condition is malnutrition.
It is estimated that 1.6 million residents in nursing homes are malnourished. Malnourished nursing home residents are at an increased risk of hip fractures, bedsores, dementia, tooth decay, and death. Anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of all nursing home residents are underweight. Federal law F325 requires that “each resident maintains acceptable parameters of nutritional status, such as body weight and protein levels, unless the resident’s clinical condition demonstrates that this is not possible.”
Inadequate staffing by nursing homes is one of the major causes of nursing home malnutrition. A certified nurse assistant (CNA) can be responsible for providing nutrition for up to 15 residents during mealtime. Studies reveal that a CNA is only capable of providing effective mealtime assistance to 2—3 residents per meal. These CNAs are spread too thin and are asked to do to much. As a result, approximately 75% of residents that need assistance with eating are not getting enough to eat.
Nursing Home’s Responsibilities
Nursing home staff should also be monitoring residents for warning signs of malnourishment. It is important that nursing home staff stay aware of individual patient needs and adjust patient protocol when circumstances require it – such as new medications, medical procedures, and other occurrences that could have an impact on the body’s use of nutrients.
Nursing homes should undertake an investigation into the causes of a resident’s weight loss if that resident losses more than 5 pounds in a month. The nursing home is also responsible for weighing all nursing home residents at regular intervals (i.e., every Wednesday) and should report any signs of weight loss to the physician.
What is Malnutrition?
The Mayo Clinic lists malnutrition as a serious senior health issue. Your body requires certain vitamins and nutrients to function properly. If these needs are not met, your body can become malnourished. This is especially true in the case of older adults who may have significantly different nutritional needs that can be affected by medical conditions, medications, and other factors that can increase or decrease the amount of specific nutrients needed. Such circumstances can be exacerbated by loss of appetite, restricted diets, and limited social interaction that can simply take the joy out of eating. Malnutrition can lead to muscle weakness, fatigue, a weakened immune system, and increased avoidance of eating that can compound the problem.
What are the Warning Signs of Malnutrition?
Unfortunately, malnutrition can be hard to detect as many of its effects may seem related to other conditions or may be internal and not readily visible. However, the following warning signs may indicate that malnutrition is occurring:
- Observe your loved one’s eating habits and take note of any changes you notice, such as reduced portions or lack of interest in food;
- Watch out for weight loss as significant changes in weight can be a sign of malnutrition as the body attempts to compensate for loss of nutrients;
- Understand your loved one’s medication including potential side effects that could have an effect of their appetite or the way their body uses food;
- Be aware of other red flags such as issues with dental hygiene, excessive bruising, or poor wound healing that could indicate the body is lacking certain essential nutrients.
When Might a Nursing Home be Liable for Malnutrition or Related Complications?
According to The Commonwealth Fund, one of the main causes of malnutrition in the nursing home settings is a lack of properly trained staff. In fact, they estimate that at least one third of the nation’s nursing home residents may be suffering from malnutrition or dehydration. Nursing homes should create individual patient care plans that address patient needs like nutrition, especially for residents that have conditions that may heighten their risk for malnutrition. If staff has not been trained to recognize the warning signs of malnutrition or has not addressed concerns or complications related to malnutrition, they may be liable for injuries that result, including death.
If your loved one has suffered from malnutrition or related effects and you suspect that a nursing home did not take proper steps to prevent malnutrition or address concerns related to it, you may have a civil claim against the nursing home. To find out, contact our law offices today for your free legal consultation, where you can find out more information about the circumstances in which a nursing home may be liable for compensation.
We offer a free, no-obligation legal consultation to help you understand your rights and the value of your case. Our personal injury law firm takes cases involving elder abuse and neglect. We offer legal service to clients in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
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