Settlement teaches lessons on resident monitoring

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

Work in this industry long enough and you become a tad skeptical of family members who sue a nursing home after a loved one dies. There is a sense sometimes people have no understanding of the resident's mortality, and expect the nursing home to work miracles. Other times, the family is shown to have never visited, but is torn apart by the death and wants to prove its pain and suffering in court.

That said, there are occasionally lawsuits where it's easy to be on the side of the family, and the Nevada Veterans Home case is one. Even McKnight's commenters [after the article] seem to agree the $400,000 settlement is barely fair.

In many lawsuits, the cover-up is worse than the crime, and this is a situation where lying didn't help. However, in this case the crime was a pretty clear case of neglect, and one of a troubling pattern of incidents.

Robert Robinson, 89, a former Nevada representative and WWII veteran, had Alzheimer's and went outside in a wheelchair in 2013, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. It's unclear how Robinson became stuck on the outdoor patio, but he ended up with second-degree burns. The cause of death was cited as  “sepsis, cellulitis, cutaneous burns and prolonged environmental heat exposure.” Robinson needed skin grafts, but wouldn't have survived the treatment, family members said.

The veterans home made corrective measures, including a new policy on excessive heat precautions. It did more training, and made patio renovations. The certified nursing assistant assigned to monitor Robinson was terminated, the newspaper said.

But what concerns me is Robinson's case is one of several incidents that placed residents in harm's way at the only state-run nursing home for veterans, according to the paper. Additionally, staff involved in the Robinson case were alleged to have changed its story, at one point stating the burns happened during transport to the hospital.

The family said it sued to bring attention to the veterans home, and I think they've succeeded. No one is perfect, but it is clear this resident was left outside for far too long. Overworked staff is no excuse.  Honoring Robinson's memory involves examining monitoring, security and safety in all memory care units, and actively working to prevent this from happening again.

Elizabeth's Etiquette Tip: Many administrators or directors of nursing rightly have an “open door” policy. However, the standard etiquette is to knock and say, “Is this a good time?” If there is an emergency at hand, however, just state that upfront and deliver the message.

Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight's. Follow her @TigerELN.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.