Nursing Home Surveillance: Should You Be Able to Spy on Your Grandma’s Caretakers?

People face the future in different ways, but the thought of having someone care for us when we are old is daunting to most. We all hope that family will be the closest and best choice for care, but when that is not an option we look to nursing homes for quality care.

The law firm of Lazarus and Lazarus has been protecting the rights of nursing home residents since 1991 with professional, caring legal representation when needed to address abuse.

In this high-tech era where cameras seem to be everywhere, there are laws and regulations regarding the placement of cameras in patient rooms at nursing homes to allow monitoring of conditions. These laws are changing, as reported by FlaglerLive.com:

By Jenni Bergal – Over the years, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has consistently heard “horror stories” about the abuse or neglect of nursing home residents. Now she is trying to bring such cruelty out of the shadows and into clear view.

Madigan’s office is drafting legislation, likely to be introduced in 2015, which would allow Illinois nursing home residents and their families to place cameras in their rooms to help protect them.

“Residents and family members should have the option, for their own peace of mind, to monitor what is taking place,” said Madigan. “If something goes wrong, you can see what actually happened.”

If the measure is approved, Illinois would join at least four other states-New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington-that have laws or regulations allowing residents to maintain cameras in their rooms. In Maryland, cameras can be placed in a resident’s room, but only if the facility permits them, according to state guidelines. (Florida has no such allowances.) Full story @ FlaglerLive.com
If you know someone who may be the victim of nursing home abuse, the law firm of Lazarus and Lazarus is eminently qualified to meet with you, discuss and investigate your case, and proceed with appropriate action. With offices in Fort Lauderdale, Weston, and Orlando, the experts at Lazarus and Lazarus can handle a case anywhere in the state of Florida. Call 954-356-0006 to arrange a consultation.

Edited by Jalaize Kukler

Florida Nursing Home Caregivers Charged With Abuse

1160103_prescription_drugs_2%20sxchu.jpgIn January, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) was arrested in Tampa after she allegedly slapped a 91-year-old dementia patient at the Lake Villas Health Care Center. 27-year-old Vanessa Lashawn Robinson was charged with felony abuse of the elderly for allegedly slapping a patient over and over with her open hand. According to law enforcement, police were called after a witness saw the 91-year-old attempting to protect herself from being struck by Robinson. The CNA was later released after she posted a $2,000 bond.

The following month, a New Smyrna Beach nurse was charged with abuse, neglect, and fraud for reportedly administering an incorrect drug to a patient at a Daytona Beach nursing home. 55-year-old Kathleen Pimental is accused of withholding a disabled patient’s painkiller, oxycodone, and instead administering the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal. The Florida Attorney General’s Medicare Control Fraud Unit conducted an investigation after a patient complained of severe stomach pain and blisters associated with medication administered by nurse Pimental.

Pimental is accused of obtaining a controlled substance through misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, or subterfuge. She is also accused of abusing and neglecting a disabled adult. Following her arrest, the Manor on the Green nursing home employee was later released from the Volusia County Branch Jail.

These two cases are unfortunate and poignant examples of nursing home abuse. In the State of Florida, a nursing home facility is required to provide a certain level of care to every patient. When a nursing home or its employees fail to provide proper care, the facility may be in violation of the patient’s bill of rights. If a nursing home resident is hurt or dies as a result of the facility’s negligence or abuse, family members of a patient may file a nursing home liability lawsuit. Although most nursing home abuse cases result from negligence, they may arise from an employee’s failure to administer the correct medications, failure to provide adequate medical care, emotional distress, failure to provide adequate food, and even physical or sexual abuse.

Residents who are incapacitated or who are otherwise unable to report mistreatment are especially at risk for abuse in Florida nursing homes. Unfortunately, the signs of nursing home abuse can be difficult to detect. If your friend or family member is a resident in a Florida nursing home, it is important to maintain regular contact with both your loved one and the nursing home employees who are tasked with your loved one’s care. If you believe a nursing home resident has been a victim of abuse or neglect, it is vital for you to report your concerns. A skilled Florida nursing home abuse attorney can help you protect your friend or loved one’s rights.
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Pinellas County Jury Awards Record $200 Million Verdict Over Nursing Home Death

Gavel%20-%20sxchu%20website.jpgThis month, a Florida jury awarded $200 million to the family of a nursing home resident who died in 2004 at the Pinellas Park Care and Rehabilitation Center. 92-year-old Elvira Nunziata was strapped in a wheelchair when she disappeared from a group of residents and made her way to an emergency exit stairwell. It allegedly took nursing home staff more than one hour to notice she was missing. Nunziata was found at the bottom of the stairwell sill in her wheelchair. Paramedics were called, but she died not long after they arrived at the facility.

Nunziata’s son filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Pinellas County against Trans Health Management Inc., the company who operated Pinellas Park Care and Rehabilitation Center at the time of her death. According to the lawsuit, Nunziata lived at the facility for more than one year before her death. At trial, her son alleged the nursing home’s staff was aware Nunziata suffered from dementia and was prone to wandering. Nunziata purportedly suffered previous injuries which resulted from falls at the home. Former caregivers also stated under oath that the facility was understaffed and employees frequently disabled stairwell alarms. At the time of Nunziata’s death, the nursing home was under investigation for several abuse complaints and had a history of deficiency citations.

The attorney representing Nunziata’s son asked the jury to send a message to the nursing home and make them pay for the unacceptable care she received. After deliberating for less than an hour, the jury awarded Nunziata’s estate $60 million in compensatory damages and $140 million in punitive damages. This is one of the largest nursing home liability awards ever made by a Florida jury. Unfortunately, Trans Health Management Inc., is no longer in business and its parent company, Trans Health, Inc., is currently in receivership in the Maryland.

A nursing home or other medical care facility is required to provide each patient with a certain level of care. When a nursing home fails to provide that level of care, they may be in violation of the patient’s bill of rights. If a resident is hurt or dies as a result of a care facility’s negligence or abuse, the patient’s family may file a nursing home liability lawsuit. Most care facility abuse cases result from negligence on the part of the nursing home. Nursing home liability cases may arise from a facility’s failure to administer the correct medications, failure to provide adequate medical care, failure to provide adequate food, emotional distress, and even sexual abuse.
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Florida Agencies, Administrators respond to Nursing Home Negligence

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Last month, we posted several blogs about the growth of nursing home abuse in South Florida. After an investigative report by the Miami Herald, lawmakers and government agencies took notice of the problems in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities (ALFs) throughout Florida. In response to these findings, the state is cracking down on violators.

The Agency for Health Care Administration has taken several measures to put an end to violations by nursing homes and ALFs. Governor Rick Scott announced that the agency imposed $125,000 in sanctions to 46 nursing home abusers. It is also taking away thousands in tax dollars from a chain of Tampa ALFs.

As the Miami Herald reported, three chains of Mapleway Communities will no longer be able to bill for their services under Medicaid; a harsh penalty which is available to the state under Florida law. This will be a big blow to the ALF chain, since facilities such as these will have to resort to making residents pay out of pocket or through private insurance. The governor’s office also noted, according to the Herald, that its website FloridaHealthFinder.gov will provide more updated information on ALFs and nursing homes.

We hope that the actions by our state will serve as a wake-up call to offenders. As attorneys, we will continue to do our part to keep you informed of the developments in battling nursing home negligence and fight for the rights of victims of abuse.

Florida Lawmakers Looking to take Action on Nursing Home Negligence

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Last week, we posted about an investigation in May by the Miami Herald on the deplorable state of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in South Florida and throughout the state. Now it seems that the current state of these facilities has caught the attention of two of Florida’s lawmakers.

The Herald reported that Florida Senator and Senate minority leader Chris Smith, after an inspection of Briarwood Manor in Lauderhill, contacted senator Ronda Storms with plans to join forces with other lawmakers to put a stop to the violations throughout Florida’s nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

Smith, along with the Department of Children and Families, the Attorney General’s Office, the Agency for Health Care and Administration and several other agencies, swept through four facilities in the Cannon Point in Lauderhill, which is home to the highest concentration of assisted-living facilities in Florida. Some of the findings at these facilities, including Briarwood Manor and Shalom Manor, included roach and rodent infestations in two of the facilities, broken furniture, and a 55-year-old man with an untreated swollen leg.

According to the Herald, Smith noted that he never knew that these facilities posed such a threat until the Herald’s investigation. He was also upset to learn that Briarwood gets hundreds of thousands of dollars to house its residents and that some of the tax dollars meant for residents were not being appropriated to them.

We applaud the steps that our lawmakers are taking to ensure the safety of our senior citizens. We hope that our Legislature and our law enforcement continue to work together to crack down on nursing home neglect and abuse. As attorneys, we will also do our part to ensure that the rights of the victims of these heinous acts are protected.

Nursing Home Negligence: A Growing Concern in Florida

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We have all seen the stereotypical scenario in movies, TV, and in real life: after years of working up north, a retired couple moves to Florida to spend their golden years on golf courses and sandy beaches. South Florida is a great place to live, vacation and retire. Many of us have parents and grandparents who, after some time, require the care and comfort of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

Nursing home abuse has been a hot topic for exposés around the country and, as the Orlando Sentinel and the Miami Herald reported last month, it is a growing concern in Florida. Both the Sentinel and the Herald highlighted several incidents of nursing home abuse, including: a 71-year-old in South Florida who died from burns in a bathtub; a 75-year-old priest with dementia in Pinellas county who wandered off unsupervised and was found in a lake with bodily injuries from alligators; and an assisted-living facility owner in the Panhandle who threatened residents with a stick and refused them food and drugs. Both the Sentinel and the Miami Herald also note recent attempts by Florida legislature to impose restrictions on nursing home lawsuits and restrictions on Florida’s nursing home watchdogs. (Note: the Herald also includes a 3-part video on its investigation).

The Herald’s 3-part series on its investigation – which spanned one year and included examination of state inspections, reports and files, as well as interviews with operators and residents – noted that the “Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees the state’s 2,850 assisted-living facilities, has failed to monitor shoddy operators, investigate dangerous practices or shut down the worst offenders.” The findings were quite appalling: (1) regulators could have shut down 70 facilities who committed violations, but only closed 7; (2) facilities are frequently found in violation for using restraints (tranquilizers, ropes, closets), but not punished; and (3) almost once a month, residents die from neglect, but arrests are rarely made.

Choosing the appropriate nursing home facility is a very difficult task. Though most rely on reviews and ratings of a facility, word of mouth and reputation, you can never be too careful when entrusting your loved ones to the care of a nursing home. As attorneys, we feel it is our privilege and our duty to represent those who have been abused or neglected by nursing homes. If you or a loved one has been the victim of nursing home abuse, consult with a Florida nursing home attorney today.

Florida House Passing Bills to reform Medical Malpractice, Healthcare Lawsuits

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The Florida House of Representatives has been busy this month, with several bills to that, if made into laws, will affect medical malpractice cases. The Orlando Sentinel and Bloomberg Businessweek reported on the bills passed this session which may be detrimental to victims of negligence and medical malpractice.

One bill (HB 479) restricts the use of expert witnesses by requiring certificates for out-of-state experts to provide expert testimony. Another bill (HB 661) places a $300,000 cap for pain and suffering damages for wrongful death claims in nursing home cases.

According to Businessweek, proponents applaud these efforts to make Florida more pro-business and cut unnecessary costs associated with malpractice, while critics fear that plaintiffs’ claims will be faced with more barriers to relief for their damages. The Orlando Sentinel noted that while supporters of these bills note that Florida has faced difficult times with recruiting and retaining physicians, especially with higher premiums in Florida compared to most states, studies showed that the number of malpractice lawsuits and payouts in 2009 dropped since 2004 and the sizeable uninsured population and lack of residency-training programs in Florida were primary factors for the lack of physicians.

Nevertheless, changes are being made which will affect the way lawsuits are handled. Attorneys are constantly faced with adapting to new statutes and case precedent, creating new strategies to properly approach every case, especially in the wake of changing governance. We will continue to educate you, as well as ourselves, on new developments and changes to our legislation, so that we can continue to serve you in an intelligent and ethical manner.

End of Life Issues Raise Malpractice Questions

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Perhaps nowhere more than in the state of Florida, end-of-life considerations for elderly or infirmed people are at the forefront in the medical community. CBS News recently reported that end-of-life procedures may actually cause more pain and suffering in the final weeks leading to death. More than 80% of the annual deaths in the U.S. are attributed to long-term diseases, such as cancer, heart failure and Alzheimer’s. In the final weeks of life, the vast majority of patients and their doctors attempt radical or intensive treatments in an effort to save their lives through chemotherapy, radiation or experimental procedures.

According to the CBS News article published June 28, 2010, these treatments can take a drastic toll on the body, causing more pain in the last days of life than the disease would have likely caused if left untreated in many cases. In turn, these experiences can lead families of loved ones to sue doctors and hospitals for malpractice when treatments don’t work or cause increased suffering prior to death.

Determining Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice can be tricky to prove. Just because a treatment doesn’t work doesn’t mean that it was administered incorrectly or with negligence. However, attempting radical procedures recklessly or with knowledge of possible harmful interactions can sometimes be grounds for malpractice. It’s important to work with an experienced Florida medical malpractice attorney to determine what the best course of action is for your case.

Research Nursing Homes to Avoid Mistreatment and Poor Conditions

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The decision to send a family member to a nursing home is not one that most people take lightly. As a matter of fact, many Florida families find themselves overwhelmed at the task of having to locate a nursing home that is suitable for their loved ones. Particularly given the urgency of some medical situations, some people find that they must make a quick decision about which nursing home to choose. However, a hasty decision can place your family member in danger of mistreatment or poor living conditions at a sub-par facility.

While many nursing homes operate with a high standard of care, there are others that simply do not provide adequate care for their patients due to lack of funding or poor management. While there are watchdog agencies cracking down on deficient nursing homes, it is crucial that you do your own research before choosing a home.

Resources for Choosing the Right Home
Medicare.gov also allows you to compare nursing homes in your area and see their Five-Star Quality Rating. This site also lists health inspection results, nursing home staff data, quality measures and fire safety inspection results for each facility in its database.

– The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration publishes a Nursing Home Guide that includes a Watch List that details care facilities operating under bankruptcy protection, as well as those that have been put under conditional status in the last 30 months. Further, this online data source is updated daily. Resources such as this can help Florida families locate the proper facilities for their loved ones with confidence.

Always be sure to visit a nursing care facility before you make a final decision. If you suspect there is abuse or maltreatment of any kind, be sure to contact a Florida attorney who can investigate your case and follow through with legal procedures to correct the situation.

Nursing Home Negligence: South Florida Patients Are Signing Away their Rights to Sue Nursing Homes

South Floridians are placing their loved ones into nursing homes and are increasingly signing away the patient’s rights to sue for nursing home negligence over sub standard care.

How can this happen? Easily, it occurs when nursing homes place arbitration clauses and/or agreements in the documents that patients and their family members sign upon admission to the nursing home. These admission documents are signed at a time when the family members and patients are in distress and not fully aware of the magnitude of the binding contractual terms they are agreeing to and the legal rights that they are forever waiving.

As a result, the patients are unknowingly signing away their legal rights to a trial by jury. This is the reason why a number of lawmakers are pushing legislation to make such agreements unenforceable. The lawmakers in the Senate, consumer advocacy groups and trial lawyers, take the position that families shouldn’t be giving away their ability to hold the nursing homes accountable for poor and substandard care in a court of law.

On Wednesday, June 18, 2008, a Senate committee will hear from the family of William Kurth. He fractured his hip and leg and contracted numerous pressure ulcers in a nursing home before he died. His family attempted to sue the nursing home for negligence, and a judge dismissed the case because Mr. Kurth’s wife signed admission documents which included a binding arbitration clause that required all claims go through an arbitrator. It is important to note that Mrs. Kurth was under extreme duress and on medication when she signed the papers that allowed her husband, a stroke victim, to stay at the nursing home. Kurth family members will appear before Congress and testify to the fact that their father, a World War II veteran, died at age 84 from infections that occurred because excrement and urine were not cleansed from his bedsores for days at a time.

A panel in the U.S.Senate is investigating the increasing use of binding arbitration by nursing homes. Their search of court records revealed that more than 100 lawsuits have been filed in the past five years challenging these types of arbitration agreements.

There are some that argue that arbitration has become a shield for large corporations to hide behind and decrease the quality of care given to their patients. Some companies actually conduct a cost benefit analysis and determine that it is economically more profitable to continue to provide substandard care and address any claims made by the patient and their families at a later date on a case by case basis. In the end, the companies benefit because the cost of arbitrating a negligence claim is minimal compared to an increase in daily costs at the nursing homes for more doctors, staff, supplies…etc.. Binding arbitration minimizes the nursing home’s expenses and forces patients and their families to resolve their disputes without any further redress. The ones who suffer from this “strategy” are the patients who are either seriously injured or die from the negligent care and their families.

This point was very well understood by Mr. Kurth’s children and well stated in written testimony provided to the Associated Press:

“It is economically more profitable to let people like my father suffer than to provide proper care. And now that our family is trying to hold the nursing home corporation accountable for its actions, Kindredcare is trying to bury our case by forcing us into a mandatory, secret, and binding arbitration process that they chose.”

Nursing Homes take the position that the arbitration program was designed to achieve several goals, including prompt resolution of legal disputes and lower costs to both residents and their families.

Binding arbitration does have a place in the American Judicial System and it should not be precluded as an option, but the decision has to be made by both parties after a dispute occurs. “Many incoming residents lack the capacity to make even simple decisions, much less judge the legal significance of an arbitration agreement,” Sen. Herb Kohl, D.-Wis., said. “Most are unaware that they are signing away their right to go to court.”

The AARP and the Alzheimer’s Association support legislation, sponsored by Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., that would make arbitration agreements for nursing home patients unenforceable.

Our firm supports legislation which would make binding arbitration agreements for nursing home patients unenforceable. It is time that these arbitration clauses and /or agreements are removed from all admission documents in Nursing Homes. These binding arbitration agreements are one-sided and strip patients of their legal right to pursue their negligence claims in a court of law against nursing homes for substandard and poor care that results in serious injury and/or death.