Bedsores and Pressure Ulcers

Posted: February 5, 2017 | Last Updated: November 19, 2017

Bedsore lawyers investigate whether pressure ulcers, also known as bedsores or decubitus ulcers, were caused by nursing home abuse or neglect.  Nursing homes are required to prevent new wounds from forming unless they were clinically unavoidable, and prevent wounds from becoming infected.

Nursing home bedsores are mostly preventable, and may be a sign of neglect or abuse.  We investigate to find answers for families when a nursing home allows a bedsore to worsen or kill their loved one.

What are Pressure Ulcers, Bedsores, and Pressure Wounds?

Close up photo of page in the dictionary with the focus on the word "definition"

Pressure to the skin can interrupt blood flow, which over time causes skin to become starved of nutrients and oxygen. Skin that does not receive enough blood flow will begin to break down.  Pressure injuries form either when the skin is under a lot of pressure for a short period of time, or when it is under a moderate amount of pressure for a long time.

These are known as bedsores, pressure ulcers (when open), pressure injuries, and decubitous ulcers (an outdated medical term still in use).

Bedsores are more likely to occur over areas of the body with less body fat or muscle between skin and bone, such as at the spine, tailbone, shoulder blades, hips, heels and elbows.

As we age, our skin becomes more delicate and vulnerable to wounds, tears, and abrasions.  Nursing home caregivers are required to take precautions with residents’ skin.  When nursing home caregivers are too busy, understaffed, or under-trained, skin wounds are going to become more common.

We investigate bedsore incidents in nursing homes on behalf of families to determine whether the wound was preventable, what efforts were taken to heal the wound or prevent development, and what efforts were taken to prevent infection.

What Nursing Home Standards Should Bedsore Lawyers Know?

Word cloud related to standards, with major words including rules, regulations, criminal, safety, lawmakers

Rules and regulations matter. Bedsore lawyers should know the federal nursing home regulations inside and out.

Federal regulations require nursing homes to prevent new wounds from forming unless they were clinically unavoidable because of the resident’s medical condition.  Nursing homes are also required to prevent wounds from becoming infected.

In my experience litigating nursing home cases involving pressure ulcers, inadequate attention from nursing staff, inadequate training, and poor positioning all contribute to developing wounds.

One frequent cause of bedsores is when a resident is left in one position for an extended period of time, allowing pressure over a specific area of skin to damage the skin.  Called a “deep tissue injury,” these types of wounds can develop from the inside out.  These types of wounds can develop whether a resident is sitting or lying down.

Many nursing home residents who are unable to reposition themselves well will have a “turn and reposition q 2 hours” order, meaning a staff member should be helping the resident move to a new position at least every two hours.  In an understaffed nursing home, that is an order that is much easier to check off in the books than actually get down with multiple residents.

Besides preventing the wounds from developing, nursing staff have to timely change dressings on existing wounds, and do so in a sanitary way to prevent infection.  Healthcare-acquired infections are a serious risk in nursing homes.  Bedsores that are not treated consistently will worsen, and can lead to infection, sepsis, or death.

Incontinent nursing home residents are especially at risk and should be more closely monitored. Being left in soiled clothing cause open wounds which may develop into bed sores, or lead to infection.

Nursing homes must ensure that residents are well monitored, bed- or wheelchair-bound residents are frequently repositioned, pressure-reducing tools like special mattresses, pillows, and pads are used, incontinent residents are kept clean and dry, and wound dressings (bandages) are regularly changed in a sterile way.

All of that can take a lot of staff time and attention.  When a nursing home puts its own profits over resident safety, there may not be adequate staff to take that level of care.

Read Nursing Home Bedsore Lawyer William Eadie’s Article on How Recent Changes to Nursing Home Regulations Affect Nursing Home Abuse Cases

Do Bedsores Mean the Nursing Home was Negligent?

Bedsores might be a sign of neglect, and neglect can affect residents in other ways, too—dehydration, malnutrition, falls from lack of monitoring, even infections caused by inadequate dressing changes or unsanitary conditions.

When a nursing home neglects obvious conditions, it can rise to the level of abuse.

Nursing home neglect contributing to bed sores can include:

  • Bedbound or wheelchair bound (immobile) residents to remain in the same position for too long
  • Failing to provide proper nutrition or fluids, which can make residents extremely vulnerable to skin breakdown, infections, sepsis, and death
  • Allowing residents to have moist skin for too long, from not changing soiled adult diapers or wet bed sheets.
  • Failing to check residents regularly skin problems
  • Failing to notify the family and physician upon development of sores so that proper treatment may be rendered

Nursing homes are also required by federal and Ohio regulations and laws to notify designated representatives—and doctors—of significant changes in condition.  Nursing home bedsore lawyers should know these regulations inside and out.  This is not just another “personal injury” case.

In some cases, a nursing home may not notify the family or physician of the existence of bedsores.

Failure to report the existence of bedsores will result in the resident being left with untreated open wounds.  Unrecognized pressure sores or inappropriately treated ulcers could result in sepsis, shock, gangrene, or death.

Finding the Best Nursing Home Bedsore Lawyer for Your Case

Any attorney who handles “personal injury” cases will want your bedsore lawsuit, because they seem easy: an open wound, someone died or became seriously injured.

But most “personal injury” attorneys don’t regularly handle nursing home cases.  They have no idea how to properly investigate the larger issues involved, understaffing, systemic failures, even identifying the full impact of a wound on a person’s health.  And they may not be used to understanding and communicating the loss of an older person on a family.

We’ve handled cases where other lawyers do not even recognize that a nursing home injury led to the resident’s death weeks later.

There’s no excuse for trusting a nursing home case to a lawyer who does not focus on nursing home cases.  That’s why many of our cases come from other lawyers who recognize our experience and success–even from personal injury lawyers!

To find the best bedsore lawyer for your case, start by finding lawyers who focus on nursing home cases.  They shouldn’t be doing lots of other things, too.  You want lawyers who have not just settled, but taken nursing home cases to trial.  Ask them about that!

If you would like to discuss your loved one’s situation, injuries, or death at a nursing home, call us at 216-777-8856.  While we handle cases throughout Ohio, we’re happy to consult on extreme cases nationwide.  If you are outside Ohio, we can help you find qualified counsel in your state.

Filing a Bedsore Lawsuit in Ohio

scrabble tile holder with letters spelling "lawsuit" sitting on wood tabletop, with random letters scattered around it

Bedsore lawsuits require a deep knowledge of the laws and regulations governing nursing homes–they are not just another personal injury case.

Under Ohio law, nursing homes can be held liable for allowing preventable bedsores from developing.  We limit our practice to the most extreme cases, because we attack every case as if we’re going to go to trial.

If you’re reading this and the situation is ongoing, there are steps you can take to help us best represent your family.

Consider taking pictures of any wounds, noting the time and date.  Photos can be some of the most important evidence in a case involving bedsores.

Also, keep notes about your conversations and observations. It can be important to know the names of staff providing care—which the nursing home must provide under Ohio law upon request—especially since there can be high turnover at these facilities.  The person may not even work there by the time you call us.

Nursing home cases are generally considered “medical claims” in Ohio, which means you may have as little as 1 year form the date of negligence in which to sue.  This is called the “statute of limitations.”

There are ways to extend that time, and plenty of complicated factors to consider as to when the clock starts running.  Get a nursing home lawyer on the investigation as early in the process as you can.

I hate to get calls from families after the time has run.  It isn’t their fault–they were worried about things like helping the person recover, funerals, mourning–but the law still takes their right to sue away.

We also investigate the corporate structure of nursing homes to find out who the real decision makers are.  Often there are 3 or more companies involved beyond that individual facility controlling the money and staffing levels.  Bedsore lawyers should get to them, too, in their investigation.

Are pressure wounds preventable?

The word prevention is drawn in black ink, and a man's hand holding a marker has just circled the word in red ink.

Preventing bedsores is the best options–and nursing homes know it’s their job to prevent avoidable bedsores.

Bedsores are preventable if nursing homes take appropriate care.  Unless a resident is terribly ill—such as kidney or other organ failure—suffering from vascular / circulatory issues, or otherwise severely compromised, appropriate care should prevent bedsores from developing.

If a loved one develops bedsores that worsen or become infected, it may be a sign of neglect, malnutrition, dehydration, or all three.  Ohio and federal nursing home regulations dictate the level of care required, and sometimes a nursing home’s own policies add to that level of care.  When we investigate nursing home cases involving bedsores, we answer the question whether they were preventable, and whether the nursing home violated its obligations in allowing them to form.

When nursing homes fail to provide this level of care to prevent, help heal, and avoid infection of pressure wounds, it may be liable for any resulting damages.

We have investigated and tried cases involving nursing home negligence allowing pressure wounds to develop and even become infected.  Please contact us to discuss your potential case.  You’ll get our candid evaluation at no cost.

Nursing home caregivers should be well-versed in the techniques necessary to prevent bedsores, including:

  • Daily skin checks
  • Repositioning
  • “Off-loading” pressure points
  • Positioning residents at a 30 degree angle to reduce pressure
  • Properly employing pressure-relieving devices like foam padding, air mattresses, and pillows
  • Keeping residents, clothing, and bedding clean and dry
  • Frequent, multiple daily checks

Nursing homes can be liable for bedsores caused by failing to adequately monitor, assist, or reposition residents having limited mobility.

Pressure Wound Complications from Bad Care

Drawing of a maze with a person standing at the entrance

Unraveling the cause of someone’s death in a nursing home can be complicated. Serious wounds can lead to complications that cause death, but it may not be obvious.

If a wound is allowed to develop to Stage III or IV, serious and life-threatening complications can develop.  Bedsore lawyers should know these complications, so they can identify cases where a bedsore caused more problems.

These include:

  • Sepsis: the presence in tissues of harmful bacteria and their toxins, typically through infection of a wound. This can lead to organ damage or failure, which can lead to septic shock, respiratory failure, and death.  This is a medical emergency.
  • Cellulitis: a potentially serious bacterial skin infection that may appear as a swollen, red area of skin that feels hot and tender. Without treatment, the infection may spread to the blood (sepsis), bones (osteomyelitis), joints (septic arthritis), or to the brain and spinal cord membranes (meningitis).
  • Gangrene: localized death and decomposition of body tissue, resulting from either obstructed circulation or bacterial infection, a medical emergency that requires immediate removal of the infected area by debridement or amputation.
  • Osteomyelitis: inflammation of bone or bone marrow, usually due to infection, which can spread from surrounding tissue or blood, and requires treatment with antibiotics and possibly surgical removal.
  • Septic arthritis: is a painful infection in a joint that can occur when a penetrating injury delivers germs directly into the joint. Requires treatment with antibiotics or surgery to remove infected areas.
  • Necrotizing fasciitis: a flesh-eating bacteria that causes rapid tissue death (necrosis) requiring immediate medical intervention including antibiotics and removal of dead tissue.

If your loved one was in a nursing home and suffered from one of these complications from a wound, call us at 216-777-8856.

Are the Nurses and Aides to Blame for Bedsores?

Photograph of nursing home hallway with nurse in blue scrubs kneeling next to and looking at woman in wheelchair wearing pink robe.

Nursing staff is often understaffed and over worked by greedy nursing home corporations.

In a very obvious way, yes, nurses and aides–the people responsible for evaluating skin, providing the positioning and offloading to prevent or help heal bedsores, and the rest–are “responsible” for bedsores.

But it is important to realize that in the nursing home bedsore cases we’ve handled, the nurses and nursing aides are really victims, too.  What I mean by that is that the nursing home company under-staff the facility, meaning the nurses have to try and do too much in too little time.

The result is people not getting care.  And one of the easiest things to skip are detailed skin checks, re-positioning residents, and changing undergarments.

The natural result is skin breakdown and infections.

Is it really the nursing staff’s “fault” that they can’t do the impossible?  Of course not.

Now, you may be angry at them, or specific staff.  We get that.  They seem rude, short tempered, lazy, disinterested, you name it.  But in a very real sense, they’re trying to cope with a terrible situation: their company is putting its own profit over resident care.

That’s why we don’t sue the nurses directly, or beat them up at trial.  We get under the surface to the real, root cause of the bedsore.  That’s what bedsore lawyers should do.

Otherwise, this seems like just one mistake, or failure, by a few nurses.  When the real problem is a system set up by the nursing home company that was going to lead to injury or death no matter what.

Common Pressure Sore Locations

Sketches of a person in four different positions (lying on back, lying on side, in wheelchair, and sitting up in bed) with red dots and labels showing pressure areas over bony prominances where pressure ulcers are likely to develop.

Where pressure ulcers are likely to develop depends on where the person spends time under pressure. (Image courtesy of the JAMA Network, by Cassio Lynm, MA, available here)

Pressure sore lawyers should be aware of the common locations for bedsores, so they can compare that with the person’s condition.  And to understand when unusual bedsores show up so they can investigate why.

For people who use a wheelchair, pressure sores often occur on skin over the following sites:

  • Tailbone or buttocks
  • Shoulder blades and spine
  • Backs of arms and legs where they rest against the chair

For people who are confined to a bed, common sites include the following:

  • Back or sides of the head
  • Rim of the ears
  • Shoulders or shoulder blades
  • Hip, lower back or tailbone
  • Heels, ankles and skin behind the knees

Risk Factors for Bedsores

Nursing home staff–and bedsore lawyers–must be aware of the risk factors for skin breakdowns and wounds, which include:

  • Age: the older we are, the more delicate and vulnerable our skin becomes. Older people have less efficient circulation, less elastic skin, and fewer protective fat stores under the skin, which provides padding.
  • Poor nutrition.  Older people are at a higher risk of poor nutrition and dehydration, which can compound other risk factors such as aging skin tissue and problems with mobility.  Residents who cannot feed themselves in particular are more vulnerable to nutrition issues, that can lead to skin breakdowns.
  • Dehydration, which can set in quickly, can lead to rapid health decline, including skin breakdowns.
  • Underweight residents;
  • Limited mobility, especially bedbound or wheelchair bound.
  • Incontinent residents, which leads to damp skin, and possibly less sanitary conditions.
  • Friction caused by turns, lifting, or pushing a resident too rapidly;
  • Shear resulting from a resident sliding down in a bed or chair or from being positioned incorrectly; and
  • Serious medical conditions affecting the skin, circulation, or immune system, including diabetes,  kidney disease,  chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which can lead to too little oxygen in the blood, heart failure, and peripheral artery disease.

People who have difficulty with mobility are always more likely to develop pressure ulcers, especially with inadequate care.

Bedsore Staging

Bedsores or pressure wounds fall into four stages, as well as “suspected deep tissue injuries” and “unstageable.”  When nursing homes do a bad job staging a bedsore over time, that can be a violation of government nursing home regulations.

Healthy Skin

Understanding how to stage pressure ulcers requires understanding what healthy skin is, and how it can differ when looking for signs of sores based on skin pigmentation and whether it is really skin or mucous membranes.

Stage I

At the beginning of a pressure sore—Stage I—you will see:

  • Unbroken  skin
  • The skin appears  does not blanch—lighten when pressed briefly—and looks red on people with lighter skin color, or discolored on people with darker skin tones.
  • The skin may be tender, firm, soft, warm or cool compared with the normal, surrounding skin.

Here are images of stage 1 sores:

Here is some information on blanching and edema:

Stage II

At stage II, a pressure ulcer is more apparent as a wound:

  • The outer layer of skin is damaged or lost, and the under layer is damaged.
  • The wound may be shallow and pinkish or red.
  • The wound may look like a fluid-filled blister or a ruptured blister.
  • It is possible for skin at this stage to be damaged beyond repair or die.
Cross section of skin with open, stage 2 pressure wound.

A stage 2 bedsore, which presents as partial thickness loss of dermis and a shallow open wound with a red or pink wound bed, or as an intact or open/ruptured serum-filled blister. (Image courtesy of the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel)

Stage III

At stage III, the pressure ulcer has become a deep wound:

  • The wound gets below the skin to the level of fat below
  • The wound appears “crater” like
  • There may be dead (necrotic) tissue on the bottom of the wound
  • The damage may extend or tunnel beyond the primary wound below layers of healthy skin.

Stage IV

A stage IV ulcer shows large-scale loss of tissue:

  • Muscle, bone or tendons may be visible.
  • There is likely dead tissue—yellow or black—at the wound bottom.
  • The damage often tunnels or extends below layers of healthy skin around the wound.
Cross section of skin with open, stage 4 pressure wound.

Stage 4 pressure wound showing wound open to bone, tendon, or muscle. Devascularized or dead tissue (slough or eschar) may be present, but the bottom of the wound can be seen. (Image courtesy of the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel)

Unstageable

It can become impossible to see how deep a wound is when its surface is covered with yellow, brown, black or dead tissue. At that point, the wound is considered unstageable.

Deep tissue injury

A deep tissue injury is characterized as:

  • Unbroken, discolored skin (purple or maroon)
  • A blood-filled blister is present.
  • The area is painful, firm or mushy.
  • Compared with the  healthy surrounding skin, the injured area will be warmer or cooler temperature
  • In people with darker skin, a shiny patch or a change in skin tone may develop.
Cross section of skin with purple shadow area representing bruise like injury from the lowest level to the skin surface.

Deep tissue injury is a term proposed by the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel to describe pressure ulcers that do not fit within the standard staging, perhaps presenting as unbroken skin but being much more serious than a Stage I bedsore. (Image courtesy of the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel)

Treating Pressure Ulcers

The most important part of treating pressure ulcers—besides preventing them—is to recognize them quickly and provide consistent care to keep them from becoming worse.  We’ve seen too many cases where a nursing home drops the ball in follow-up care, meaning wounds get worse, or even infected.

Care starts with alleviating the underlying cause, using creams or gels, and pressure-relieving devices to prevent additional sores.  More serious wounds require wound dressings / bandages, advanced wound care, special padding or mattresses, or surgery.

Special wound doctors can remove dead / necrotic tissue at the bedside, called “debriding” a wound.

Protecting Elderly Skin

(Re)Positioning

Frequent position changes relieve pressure and allow for better blood flow to skin.   Repositioning is an important way to prevent pressure ulcers and encourage healing of existing ulcers.  At-risk residents should be provided a repositioning schedule such as being turned or moved every couple hours, or even 15 minutes for people at significant risk.

Repositioning should consider:

  • ability of the person to independently reposition
  • educating any staff or caregivers about proper repositioning
  • sitting position and posture
  • lying position
  • supporting feet, arms, neck, trunk, and head
  • using any necessary equipment and supports

Pressure Relieving Devices like Cushions

Air mattresses, cushions, and other pressure-relieving devices can help reduce pressure points.

Nutrition

Dietitians understand residents at risk of pressure ulcers, or healing open wounds, need more nutrition—especially protein—to keep their skin healthy or repair wounds.  Adequate nutrition is a critical part of preventing and healing pressure sores.  Residents at-risk for wounds should be seen by a registered dietician in order to develop an appropriately balanced diet to promote healing.

Dressings and Topical Treatments

Wounds can be protected by barrier creams, gels, and ointments, which can help to protect the wound from infection and promote healing.

There are wound treatments, including dressings, designed specifically to help heal, or stop progression, or pressure wounds.  Special wound dressings can reduce pressure and support healing.

Hydrocolloid dressings are a specialized dressing for wounds that provide unique benefits.  As described by Advanced Tissue, “Hydrocolloid dressings have an active surface treated with a gel-forming substance consisting of pectin, carboxy-methylcellulose, polymers and other adhesives. They are an opaque, flexible, wafer that adheres to the skin. When in contact with wound exudate, the polymers absorb the fluid and swell, forming a gel which is confined within the structure of the material.”  They work best with wounds that are not infected.  They provide some benefits, including:

  1. Minimal Disruption to Healing—needing application every 3-7 days, there is less disruption of healing, room for infection through changing dressings, and less intensive staff needs (meaning less risk of staff missing dressing changes).
  2. Impermeable to Bacteria
  3. Adheres Only to Intact Skin
  4. Easy to Apply

Alginate dressings contain substances like calcium and sodium that help the wound to heal faster, and are made of natural materials.

Antibiotics

Whether topical, oral, or IV, antibiotics are critical for stopping infections before they develop  to systemic infections or sepsis.  Infections place an additional strain, beyond healing the wound, on a person’s body energy.

Surgical Debridement

Cutting away dead or necrotic skin is called “debridement.”  Besides using scalpels, wound specialists can also use: (1) cleansing irrigation, washing away dead tissue with high-pressure jets of water; (2) removing dead tissue with sound waves, called “ultrasound”; and (3) laser tissue removal treatment.

Debridement can be extremely painful.  Local anesthetics can be employed to help reduce pain.

Surgery

When a pressure ulcer gets severe—State III or IV—surgery may be needed to close the wound.  But the resident needs to be healthy enough to undergo such surgery, and resist infection.

Vacuum Treatments

Wound vacuums, called “wound vacs,” or negative-pressure therapy, use vacuum pressure on the wound to help close, extract moisture, and reduce infection risk.

Maggot Therapy

Although it might seem distasteful, “biological debridement” or maggot therapy uses larvae to remove dead tissue while leaving healthy tissue unharmed. Maggots also release bacteria-killing chemicals, which can make infection less likely. This is considered a safe and effective debridement treatment.

How do I Hire You to be my Ohio Bedsores and Pressure Ulcers Lawyer?

The first thing to do is complete the contact form at the bottom of this page. That way, you can put in details that we can review before we schedule a phone call.

You can also call us at 216-777-8856 if you prefer.

You will likely not speak to us immediately, but will schedule a phone or in-person meeting. Why? Because we’re busy working on the important cases other families have entrusted to us. Just like we would not constantly take phone calls when we’re entrusted to work on your case.

You should also gather all the records and papers you have from the medical providers, go back and look for dates, names, and events that happened, and otherwise prepare to discuss the case. We’ll have a meeting and, if it seems like a case we’d be a good fit for, we’ll move into an investigation phase.

Once we’ve investigated, we’ll candidly tell you what we think about what happened, whether the medical provider is to blame, and what we think about the strength of the case.

Fair warning: we only take on clients whose cases we believe have very strong merits. We’re not lazy—the cases are still very complex, difficult, and expensive—but the risk to your family of being drawn into a difficult process with little chance of a positive outcome is not something we do.

Which means when we do take on a case, our reputation tells the other side this is a serious case we believe in.

If for whatever reason we do not take on the case, and we think there is some merit to the case, we’ll try and help you find a lawyer who might take it on.

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