Bed sores, or pressure ulcers, are wounds that appear on the skin when someone has been lying or sitting in one position for long periods of time. Unfortunately, bed sores are not uncommon in many nursing homes, but you don’t necessarily have to accept them as an expected occurrence. Bed sores can be a sign of nursing home abuse and neglect, and the nursing home may be liable. Here’s what you need to know.
What Causes Bed Sores?
As indicated above, bed sores are caused by pressure. For example, if someone lies in a bed or sits in a chair for an extended period of time, the pressure prevents blood and oxygen from getting to that part of their skin. That damages the tissues and breaks open the skin. This happens most often in bony areas that don’t have a lot of fat or muscle, such as near the hip bone, on heels, by elbows, along the spine, and in similar areas.
Additionally, when skin is fragile, friction can also lead to bed sores. For example, bedding or clothing can rub against the body and create a bed sore. This can happen when the fabric moves, but it can also happen when the patient slides up or down in bed, creating friction between their skin and the bedding.
How Can You Prevent Bed Sores?
To prevent bed sores, you simply need to remove the pressure from the skin. Ideally, nursing home patients should change their position every 15 minutes, and if they aren’t able to move on their own, a nursing home attendant should shift their position every two hours or as recommended by the patient’s doctor.
Pillows can also help to remove pressure. Use pillows to add cushioning between the knees or to reduce pressure in other parts of the body. Keeping the skin clean is also important, and in a nursing home, attendants should ensure that patients are given baths or sponge baths on a regular basis. Finally, exercise (when possible) can also help to keep bed sores at bay.
What Are the Stages of Bed Sores?
Stage 1: The skin appears red and feels painful, but it has not broken yet. When you press down on the skin, it doesn’t turn white as usual.
Stage 2: The bed sore becomes an open wound. Blisters often occur, and the area surrounding the wound is red and sore.
Stage 3: The open sore becomes deeper and almost crater-like. The skin tissue is so damaged that you can see body fat behind the skin.
Stage 4: The bed sore is significantly deeper. Damage to muscles, bone, tendons, and joints may be apparent.
In most cases, the earlier you catch the bed sores, the easier they are to treat.
How Do You Treat Bed Sores?
Generally, you need to start treating a bed sore by cleaning the skin, gently patting it dry, and applying a bandage. You also need to flush out the wound to remove any damaged or infected tissue. In some cases, health care professionals use negative pressure therapy (also called vacuum-assisted closure). These techniques use suction to clean and close the wound.
Bed sores can be extremely painful, and the patient may need to take some pain relieving medication. Typically, an over-the-counter NSAIDS work fine, however, if NSAIDS are contraindicated or the patient is in a great deal of pain, a doctor may prescribe stronger medication. The patient may also need to take medications to fight infection in that area. Finally, dietary changes can also be useful—a healthy diet promotes healing and helps to make the skin more resistant to future bed sores.
What Should Nursing Homes Do When a Patient Has Bed Sores?
If you or your loved one are experiencing bed sores, you should report them to nursing home staff. When someone is in a nursing home, their care team should also work together to heal their bed sores and prevent future ones from appearing. A care team may involve a specialist in wound care, a physical therapist to help with exercise and movement, an occupational therapist to assess and modify the patient’s bed and sitting surfaces, and a dietician to help with the nutritional aspects. The patient may need to see a surgeon and a dermatologist as well.
If a nursing home does not assemble a care team or if they are not taking action to adequately treat existing bed sores and prevent new ones from forming, this may be considered nursing home neglect.
Are Nursing Homes Liable for Bed Sores?
The role of a nursing home is to take care of their patients. In some cases, things happen that are out of the control of the nursing home staff, and in those cases, the nursing home may not be liable. However, if the nursing home’s practices or employees were negligent, they may be held responsible for bed sores.
Bed sores can lead to extremely serious issues such as pain, infection, and in some cases, even death. If you or a loved one has suffered from bed sores, you may be entitled to compensation for medical treatment as well as pain and suffering. To learn more, contact Mazow | McCullough, PC today at (855) 693-9084. We serve clients throughout the Massachusetts and New Hampshire area.