When a patient is transferred from a nursing home to an emergency room, federal law requires the facility to report it to Medicare. According to a recent audit by the Inspector General, about 20% of the time nursing homes never make those reports.
I believe that this alarming lack of transparency on the part of the nursing home industry puts nursing home residents at risk.
It also concerns me because federal government reports are one of the few ways that Texas patients and attorneys can pull back the curtain to reveal quality of care secrets that are normally closely guarded by hospitals and nursing homes.
In every other industry I can think of—engineers, plumbers, electricians, teachers, you name it—past problems can be uncovered in a lawsuit. That’s not so when it comes to hospital, nursing home, and physician health care mistakes. Texas protects incident reports, physician credentialing, and peer review activities from disclosure or discovery—even in a lawsuit.
With such backward-looking laws that protect doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes at the expense of patient safety, federal oversight is of critical importance. In fact, it’s often the only way the public will ever find out about serious patient safety problems.
Neglect and abuse of elderly patients can be difficult to expose. According to investigators, lots of cases aren’t reported because vulnerable seniors are afraid to tell anyone—not friends, not relatives, and certainly not authorities. Another big factor is that underlying medical decisions sometimes mask medical conditions.
The federal report references the story of a 65-year-old woman who was taken by ambulance from a nursing home to an emergency room (ER) in critical condition. ER physicians were surprised to find that she was having a hard time breathing, had behavior that wasn’t normal for her (delirium), and kidney failure.
The hospital workup revealed that this poor patient had been overdosed on powerful opioid medications because of a nursing home error. The federal investigator found that a nurse made a mistake while copying a doctor’s orders, which led to the overdose.
As a Houston, Texas medical and nursing home malpractice attorney, I’ve handled countless cases where patients were overdosed. I remember one case at a Sugar Land nursing home where the hospitalist even wrote that the patient’s altered mental status was “likely because of overmedication.” Yet, the hospitalist didn’t appropriately reduce the medication order and certainly didn’t transfer the patient to a hospital where she could get the care she needed. It’s no wonder that she needlessly died.
The patient mentioned in the federal investigation was treated at the hospital and then, much to my dismay, was sent back to the same negligent nursing home. While the nursing home gave the nurse involved in this incident additional training, they didn’t bother to report what happened. The federal watchdog called them out for that mistake, too.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by poor nursing home or hospital care, contact a top-rated Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney for advice about your potential claim.