Attorneys Helping Nursing Home Victims of Pelvic Fractures

The pelvis, a ring of bones located in the lower torso, connects the hips and protects vital organs in the abdomen. Pelvic fractures are life threatening injuries in elderly nursing home patients.

Facts on Pelvic Fractures

The pelvis is an important structure of bones within the body that include the sacrum, tailbone (coccyx), and hip bones (ilium, ischium, and pubis). These bones connect to form a protective ring, also known as the pelvic ring, around vital organs, nerves, and blood vessels.

Pelvic fractures can be divided into three categories

  • Low-energy pelvic fractures that arise from low-energy trauma (i.e. falls while standing/walking)
  • High-energy pelvic fractures that arise from major, high-energy trauma (i.e. automobile accidents)
  • Avulsion pelvic fractures that arise from muscle convulsions

Pelvic fractures that arise in nursing homes and other assisted living homes usually fall into the first category listed above. Though these fractures can be classified as “minor” pelvic fractures, they should by no means be trivialized. Pelvic fractures in the elderly can take up to a year to heal and cause a multitude of secondary complications, including wrongful death. Those who recover from pelvic fractures generally suffer a drastic decrease in mobility and require a cane, walker, wheelchair or other means of assistance to walk. Therefore, it is important that at-risk patients within nursing homes are adequately supervised and treated so as to lessen the possibility of pelvic fractures.

Causes of Pelvic Fractures in Nursing Home Residents

Pelvic fractures are a risk for those with certain underlying conditions, such as osteoporosis, brittle bones, vitamin D deficiency, advanced age, Paget’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple myeloma. All of these conditions are known to weaken the bones, making them prone to fractures and breaks. Those with the greatest risk of acquiring pelvic fractures are elderly osteoporotic women. Many nursing home residents suffer from these comorbidities, and as a result, patients in nursing homes are more likely to suffer a broken pelvis from a nursing home fall.

Unfortunately, the presence of weakened bones means that even small shocks to the body can lead to fractures. An older individual with osteoporosis can fracture their pelvis by slipping in the shower, falling out of bed, being dropped by a caregiver, or merely sitting down too hard on a chair. Because elderly patients have such a high risk for developing serious pelvic fractures, nursing homes must develop and abide by multiple safeguards to reduce the risk for falls and fractures. Prevention of these pelvic fractures in at-risk residents is discussed in detail in the below paragraphs.

X-ray of Pelvic Fracture

Falls and Broken Pelvis Injuries in Nursing Home Residents

Falls are very common among older adults in nursing homes. With up to 90% of nursing home patients suffering from osteoporosis, even a minor fall has the danger of fracturing a patient’s fragile bones. It is vital that nursing homes establish strategies and safeguards to reduce the risk for falls and fractures. Examples of these strategies and safeguards include:

  • Administering medication and supplements to improve bone density
  • Giving the patient occupational therapy to improve balance and strength
  • Offering ambulatory aids (i.e. handrails, walkers, canes, wheelchairs)
  • Placing alarms on the patient’s bed
  • Keeping the patient’s bed in a low position
  • Placing commonly used items (i.e. glasses, water, phone, remote) within easy reach
  • Answering call bells timely
  • Frequent welfare checks on the patient
  • Toileting schedules to prevent urgency
  • Appropriate staff numbers so the ratio of patients to nurses is reasonable
  • Avoid aggressive physical therapy to the pelvis area

In the situation that a pelvis fracture is suspected, there are several protocols that medical staff and caregivers are advised to follow during their treatment of the patient. Doctors are advised not to “spring the pelvis” during patient exams, patients must be moved using a straight lift (no rolling) with several persons assisting, and cushions should be provided for chairs and wheelchairs. Caregivers should also be aware that older individuals have a higher risk of developing secondary complications during their recovery. These added complications include:

  • Bedsores
  • Pneumonia
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss

Treatment of Nursing Home Broken Pelvis Injuries

Treatment measures vary depending on the location and severity of the pelvic fracture(s). Low-energy pelvic fractures typically manifest as stable fractures with minimal bone displacement. As a result, low-energy pelvic fractures usually do not require surgical intervention. Treatment consists of imaging (X-ray and CT scan) to monitor the fracture and a walker and/or wheelchair to assist with mobility. In some instances, bed rest may be required. The patient will be prescribed physical therapy, anti-coagulants, and pain-relief medication while their fracture heals.

If a pelvic fracture is deemed unstable, the bones have become (or at risk of becoming) significantly displaced. Large movement of the pelvic bones can cause damage to the underlying vessels and/or organs within the pelvis, which in turn can cause fatal hemorrhaging, sepsis, thrombosis, or pulmonary embolism. Surgical intervention is required to stabilize the bones. Stabilization methods include external fixation and internal fixation of the bones using metal pins, screws, and rods. Once the bones are stabilized, the patient must undergo a long period of bed rest with anti-coagulant and pain-relief therapy.

One type of pelvic fracture that has a unique treatment option is a sacral insufficiency fracture. Sacral insufficiency fractures are fractures to the sacrum (bone above the tailbone) that occur frequently to those suffering from osteoporosis. Sacral insufficiency fractures can develop from a minor fall on the butt or by simply sitting down too hard on a chair. A surgical procedure known as sacroplasty was introduced in 2002 in order to treat sacral insufficiency fractures. During sacroplasty, bone cement is injected into the fracture in order to restore the bone integrity. Unfortunately, many elderly nursing home residents who suffered a pelvic fracture from a fall in the facility are too weak to undergo this surgery. As a result, they must live with the pain from the broken pelvis for the remainder of their life.

Lawsuits Regarding Pelvic Fractures

Unfortunately, pelvic fractures have been known to occur in nursing homes due to the negligence of staff and caretakers. In many cases, safety measures such as bed alarms, welfare checks, and bedrails were not put in place despite the patient having a history of falls. If a nursing home fails to implement the appropriate safety measures for a patient, it is the nursing home’s responsibility to pay for any resulting injury and corresponding pain and suffering.

One example in which a nursing home did not implement the necessary safeguards is described as follows: An elderly female nursing home patient, in an episode of confusion and agitation, got out of her bed to tend to the window curtains. Despite the patient’s history of falls, no alarms had been installed on her bed. As a result, no one came rushing into her room when she got out of bed. She subsequently fell and fractured her pelvis. In another example of a caretaker’s negligence, an elderly patient fractured his pelvis during vehicular transport. The driver sped over speed bump and the patient fell from her wheelchair and the ensuing trauma from the wheelchair fall fractured the patient’s pelvis. In both of the cases described above, the victim took legal action to bring a case of negligence against the nursing home in the form of a pelvic fracture lawsuit for nursing home negligence.

Speak with a Lawyer Now About Your Broken Pelvis Claim

Pelvic fractures are a serious risk for the elderly and a painful injury that your loved one should not have to suffer. Nursing home staff and employees must remain vigilant against situations that place an elderly patient at risk for falls and fractures. If you feel that a pelvic fracture was a cause of negligence or that proper reactionary steps were not taken, the attorneys at the Senior Justice Law Firm are here to help you and your family. Call us now for your free, no obligation pelvic fracture case consultation at 1-844-253-8919.

Sources:

Bayley E., Srinivas S., and Boszczyk B.M. “Clinical Outcomes of Sacroplasty in Sacral Insufficiency Fractures: A Review of the Literature.” Eur Spine J, Sept. 2009. vol. 18, no. 9, pp. 1266-1271.

Dunbar R.P. and Lowe J.A. “Pelvic Fractures.” AAOS. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00520

Kinard R.E. “Outpatient Treatment for Osteoporotic Pelvic Fractures.” The Orthopaedic Institute. http://www.toi-health.com/outpatient-treatment-for-osteoporotic.aspx

Rothenberger D.A., Fischer R.P., Strate R.G., Velasco R., and Perry J.F. Jr. “The Mortality Associated with Pelvic Fractures.” Surgery, vol. 84, no. 3, 1978, pp. 356-361. http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/684627

Tidy C and Louth M. “Pelvic Fractures.” Aug. 17, 2015. http://patient.info/doctor/pelvic-fractures

Warriner A.H., Outman R.C., Saag K.G., Berry S.D., Colon-Emeric C., Flood K.L., Lyles K.W., Tanner S.B., Watts N.B., and Curtis J.R. “The Management of Osteoporosis among Home Health and Long Term Care Patients with a Prior Fracture.” South Med J, Apr. 2009, vol. 102, no. 4, pp. 397-404.