Bed sores are painful skin ulcers that result from pressure on the body. This most often occurs with patients who lack mobility and rely on others to help them shift position to relieve pressure. When adequate care is not provided for patients in nursing homes or those with disabilities that restrict mobility, these sores can develop. If not treated adequately, they can become severe and cause other complications.
The development of bed sores may be the result of neglect in a nursing home or hospital. There are ways to prevent the sores, but if a patient is not getting adequate care these prevention measures may not be used fully. If you have a loved one suffering from sores that you believe resulted from poor care or neglect, you could have a case for malpractice of negligence.
What Are Bed Sores?
Bed sores, which are also caused pressure sores, pressure ulcers, and decubitus ulcers, are areas of damaged skin that may extend deeper to tissue beneath the skin. The names pressure and bed sores come from the fact that these wounds are caused by pressure exerted on the skin over a long period of time, such as the pressure from a bed. When someone is in one position in a bed for too long, the pressure can cause these injuries. The sores are most common on bony parts of the body, like hips, ankles, and the tailbone.
The signs of a bed sore include tender areas on the skin, changes in the texture or color in that area, swelling, pus, and an open wound. The pressure sore area of skin may also feel warm or cool to the touch. In severe cases of bed sores, the injuries can be deep and involve muscle or even bone tissue. Mild pressure sores may not have broken skin, but will develop into open wounds if not addressed.
What Causes Bed Sores?
Pressure, or bed, sores are caused by constant pressure on the body. This decreases blood flow to that area, which results in a reduction of oxygen and nutrients. This causes tissue to die. Friction or shear against the surface where the pressure is applied can worsen the sores or make them develop quickly. Lying in bed in one position for a long period of time is a common cause of bed sores, but people confined to wheelchairs are also susceptible.
Residents in nursing homes and people with disabilities are at the greatest risk for getting bed sores, which can develop quickly. Anyone who cannot move well and relies on others to help them shift position could suffer from these sores. Other risk factors include lacking sensation, because of nerve damage or paralysis, being poorly hydrated or having poor nutrition, and having a medical condition that causes blood flow to be reduced.
Consequences of Bed Sores
Developing bed sores can have serious consequences. On a surface level these sores are painful and uncomfortable. They can cause a patient to have to live in constant discomfort and with pain that is hard to manage. Pressure sores that go untreated can become severe, damaging tissue down to muscle and bone. They can also lead to very serious infections that ultimately may cause joint or bone infections and even sepsis in rare cases, which can be fatal.
Other possible complications of bed sores include cancer and cellulitis. Ulcers that take a long time to heal, or never heal as is possible with bed sores, are called Marjolin’s ulcers. These can develop into squamous cell carcinoma, a type of cancer. Ulcers can also cause an infection called cellulitis, which affects skin and other soft connective tissues.
Bed Sores and Negligence
Bed sores are painful, uncomfortable, and when severe can lead to serious health consequences and can be very difficult to heal. In some cases the sores may never heal fully. All this is preventable with proper care for patients who lack mobility, such as those in nursing homes. Prevention requires moving regularly and shifting position, using special cushions that relieve pressure, and changing the elevation of hospital beds. Keeping skin dry and clean, inspecting vulnerable spots regularly, and protecting skin from friction by using talcum powder can also help prevent sores.
Prevention requires a lot of attention from caregivers, and when residents or patients in nursing homes don’t get this attention, they can suffer from bed sores. The presence of bed sores may constitute negligence if it can be proven that caregivers neglected a patient, and that other caregivers in the same situation would have done something differently to prevent the formation of the sores or to heal the sores early in their progression. In some cases bed sores may result from willful neglect and could be considered abuse, a criminal act. In most cases, though, these sores result from neglect and may be proven to be medical malpractice or negligent care.
Examples of Neglect that Lead to Bed Sores
Bed sores are preventable, which means that inaction on the part of caregivers is often the cause of these painful sores. There are several ways in which this can happen, including:
- Failing to shift patient position on a regular schedule or frequently enough.
- Not providing pressure relief devices.
- Failing to change diapers and incontinence pads.
- Failing to keep patients clean and dry.
- Not checking on vulnerable areas of skin.
- Failing to provide regular care for minor, developing sores.
- Not providing adequate nutrition and hydration.
- Making errors in schedules with workers responsible for moving patients.
- Failing to train caregivers to shift and move patients to prevent sores.
Bed Sores Malpractice Cases
There are many examples of cases that involved an individual or family suing a hospital or nursing home over the development of bed sores. This is because these sores are largely preventable and often develop due to negligent neglect. In one case a medical center was ordered to pay the victim $10.3 million in a jury case. The patient was being cared for after hip surgery and the workers did not follow the medical center’s procedures for preventing sores. He wasn’t given recommended pressure-relieving devices and was not moved adequately over the course of multiple staffing shifts. He developed bad sores as a result.
In New Mexico, the wife of a man who developed severe bed sores in an intensive care unit was awarded $7.75 million in her case against the hospital. Her husband was in the ICU for complications related to knee surgery when he developed the sores. He spent days in the hospital bed without being turned or shifted by staff and ended up with sores that extended down to muscle tissue. As a result he has suffered long-term with pain and slow healing. The case went to trial and ended in a jury award.
Most cases of bed sores do not result in death, but more vulnerable patients may ultimately die because of the infections and damage caused by sores. In one such case the wife of a man who died is suing the hospital she says is responsible. The man was admitted to the hospital for difficulty breathing and was set to be released three weeks later when severe sores down to the bone were discovered. The man’s wife documented his care and asked staff for help as the sores developed, but it was clear to her that he was being neglected. Over several more weeks he suffered from pain, and that and the wounds likely contributed to his death.
These and other cases are not uncommon in hospitals and nursing facilities. Neglect is all too common and can quickly lead to very harmful and painful pressure sores. If you have a loved one who developed bed sores and you believe better care could have prevented them, you may have a case for negligence. Let a malpractice lawyer help you proceed with your lawsuit.