Abuse or Neglect: What Causes a Nursing Home Sepsis Illness?

nursing home sepsis

Sepsis in nursing home residents is most often caused by bedsores, which are usually a preventable condition

In many cases, sepsis is preventable. The main cause of sepsis in nursing home residents is from infections from bedsores. Here’s how to prevent bedsores (and sepsis infections) and what to do if your loved one in a nursing home has a case of sepsis that could’ve been prevented.
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Sepsis is a life-threatening medical condition.

It happens when a person has an infection, even one that starts off mild — and can begin in the lung, urinary tract, skin, or gastrointestinal tract. In some cases, the body will have an extreme immune response to an infection, and that could result in sepsis. Most often, sepsis is the result of bacterial infection but it could also be from a virus like the flu or COVID-19.

There are some groups of people who are at higher risk of sepsis. They include:

  • Adults age 65 and over
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Babies under 1 year old
  • People with chronic conditions like diabetes, lung disease, cancer, or kidney disease
  • People who’ve had a previous case of sepsis

Unsurprisingly, sepsis can be a big problem for people in nursing homes. Many have more than one of the risk factors — age, weaker immune systems, and chronic conditions. Sepsis can result in severe illness or death if not treated quickly and correctly.

What causes sepsis in nursing homes?

Approximately 25,000 nursing home residents die each year after being hospitalized for sepsis, according to a Chicago Tribune/Kaiser Health News report in 2018.

The primary reason is that nursing homes often fail to prevent bedsores or other infections that lead to sepsis.

Facing factsThe report indicated that 72% of nursing homes have been cited for failure to have or implement infection control procedures.

A federal report indicated that sepsis was the most frequent reason for a nursing home patient to be transferred to a hospital, and that a sepsis patient is more likely to die than patients who transfer for other reasons.

Why are nursing home residents more likely than other people of the same age and condition to develop sepsis?

Residents in nursing homes with lower staffing levels are more likely to develop bedsores. Bedsores are pressure ulcers, which are injuries to the skin and underlying tissue that are the result of prolonged pressure on the skin. Often, they are found on heels, ankles, hips, tailbone, shoulder blades, back or sides of the head, and backs of arms or legs.

Bedsores are a risk for people whose medical conditions prevent them from changing position often, or who spend most of their time in a chair or bed. They can develop over the course of hours or days.

Risk factors for bedsores

  • Immobility
  • Medical conditions that affect blood flow, like diabetes and vascular disease
  • Incontinence, because the skin is more vulnerable to becoming sore and broken when exposed to waste
  • Lack of sensory perception
  • Poor nutrition and hydration

Nursing home staff should be watching residents who are bedridden or spend most of their time in a chair. They should be helping residents to reposition their bodies once an hour if the resident isn’t able (or won’t remember) to do it on their own.

It’s also important for nursing home staff to be aware that they can protect residents by taking these precautions:

  • Keeping skin clean and dry
  • Protecting skin with moisture barrier creams when necessary
  • Changing bedding and clothing frequently and quickly if they become soiled
  • Watching for buttons, zippers, and other parts of clothing or wrinkles in bedding that could irritate the skin
  • Inspecting skin daily for warning signs of a pressure sore

Is the nursing home at fault if a patient develops sepsis?

It could be.

Some sepsis develops as a result of infections that might not be preventable. But sepsis that results from bedsores is preventable because bedsores are preventable.

A nursing home can be liable for a patient’s illness or death from sepsis that was caused by bedsores. Nursing home staff should be taking the precautions mentioned above in order to prevent bedsores and keep patients clean and healthy.

In addition, a nursing home should be aware of the signs of sepsis and react quickly if a resident displays any of these symptoms:

  • High heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Extreme pain
  • Fever or shivering, chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Clammy or sweaty skin

Nursing home abuse and neglect lawsuits

There are several forms of nursing home abuse that can affect residents in a variety of ways. The one that would be most likely to lead to a sepsis infection is neglect.

Neglect often happens when a nursing home is inadequately staffed to appropriately care for residents’ needs.

This can include failing to provide personal hygiene, food, clothing and water. It also includes being inattentive to residents’ physical movement or repositioning, performing checks to make sure they aren’t developing bedsores, and ensuring that they are kept clean and free of soil or waste.

Enjuris tip:A nursing home neglect lawsuit would be part of the personal injury area of law. This can also include wrongful death.

Who’s liable if you believe your family member is being or has been abused in a nursing home?

There are many people and entities that could be liable, sometimes depending on if the facility is privately or publicly owned.

For instance, you might file a lawsuit against:

  • Staff members who intentionally harmed or neglected your family member.
  • Supervisors whose responsibility involves overseeing and managing staff.
  • The owner or operator of the facility.

In order to be successful in a nursing home abuse or neglect lawsuit related to sepsis, you would need to prove the following elements of a personal injury case:

  1. The nursing home had a duty to the resident. This is clear because the staff and management have a clear duty to keep residents healthy and safe during their stay in a nursing home.
  2. The nursing home breached its duty. In other words, they didn’t follow the accepted standards for caring for the patient.
  3. The breach caused the patient to become septic. This is where the nursing home is likely to mount a defense. The plaintiff (person filing the lawsuit) would need to prove that the nursing home did not appropriately position and reposition the patient, prevent or treat bedsores, or take other necessary measures to prevent sepsis. If the sepsis is the result of some other bacteria or virus, the plaintiff would have to prove that the nursing home should have been aware and taken faster action to obtain medical treatment for the patient.
  4. The sepsis infection cost money. “Damages” are financial, so in order to claim damages for a personal injury lawsuit, you need to know what the injury cost. In a nursing home neglect claim, the financial damages might be the costs of medical treatment. You might also be able to claim damages for the patient’s pain and suffering or other emotional distress.

If you believe your loved one is currently being harmed or at risk of harm or illness in a nursing home, look for your state’s nursing home complaints hotline.

A lawsuit is for an injury that has already happened.

If you believe your loved one has suffered an avoidable sepsis infection, you can call a nursing home abuse lawyer. Use the free Enjuris law firm directory as your guide to finding a competent, experienced attorney in your area who will guide you through the process of filing a nursing home complaint or lawsuit.


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