Limb Amputations due to Nursing Home Negligence
Amputation of a limb due to nursing home abuse, neglect or negligence is infuriating. When most people think of the care that their loved one should experience in a nursing home, they envision staff caring for elders whose memories may be failing them, or assisting those who cannot walk as quickly as they used to. They do not, however, realize just how common amputations are in a nursing home setting. Unfortunately, leg amputations and foot amputations often arise due to neglect on the part of the facility staff.
Many elderly residents of nursing homes have undergone the loss of some part of their body, whether a single finger or an entire limb. Amputation is more common than you may have thought, and it can be traced to a number of contributors that arise commonly in cases of nursing home negligence and abuse. If your loved one has had an amputation operation following a nursing home residency, be sure to work with legal and medical experts to determine its cause.
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The Sad State of Nursing Home Care
Across America, states are experiencing a nationwide epidemic of nursing home abuse and neglect. An increasing number of long-term care facilities are shifting their focus to profit over the ability to provide adequate assistance to residents, and with this trend, amputations have also increased.
While some amputations are the result of medical conditions and other non-negligent causes, more than half of nursing home amputations arise due to the low quality of care in nursing homes. This is why it is important to remain vigilant on behalf of your loved one or family member and to investigate the cause of an amputation, should it unfortunately occur.
Why Amputations Are Common in Nursing Home Residents
Many of the injuries and diseases that residents at nursing homes experience when they are neglected or abused can result in the need for amputation. Due to this connection, amputations are growing increasingly common within long-term care facilities. With staff to patient ratios at an all-time low and many facilities running the razor’s edge for Medicare and Medicaid compensation, resident care suffers—resulting in the loss of limbs and other body parts.
Not all amputations are caused by neglect. Some medical conditions may result in the loss of a limb or digit, even with the best care. However, the reason for the prevalence of leg amputation in nursing homes is due to substandard levels of attention, poor care and a failure to react on time when a resident is in need of a medical consultation.
Below are some of the more common causes for amputation following a long term care residency.
Infected Bedsores Causing a Nursing Home Amputation
One of the most common causes of amputation in the elderly population is from infected bed sores, also called pressure sores or decubitus ulcers. Bed sores arise from when an individual lies in the same position for hours at a time without moving. The weight of the body puts pressure on the blood vessels and skin of the areas that are in contact with the bed or chair; most often, these are the heels, elbows, shoulders, and tailbone.
Without proper blood flow to these areas, the skin is not receiving the oxygen that it needs in order to remain healthy. Over time, the skin begins to break down, and ulcers form. Once a bedsore has developed, it can progress quickly, with stage 4 bed sores extending deep into the tissue and potentially even through muscle to the bone. These wounds can easily get infected.
It may be unsurprising, then, to learn that severe bedsores frequently result in amputations. Because they are open wounds, outside bacteria and contaminants can enter freely, resulting in infection. As infection worsens, it creates further tissue degradation and swelling, which can contribute to additional reduction in blood flow that only exacerbates the problem. When tissue has been permanently damaged or the infection is severe, such as sepsis, the affected body part may be amputated in order to prevent the infection from spreading further or toward the organs.
Bed sores are a telltale sign of nursing home neglect. They almost always should not occur. If your loved one suffered an amputation due to a nursing home pressure ulcer, seek out our attorneys immediately.
Gangrene, Diabetes and Limb Loss
Diabetes is a known comorbidity for amputations. This medical condition that relates to how a person’s body processes sugar may not be adequately managed with insulin and diet choices at a nursing home, especially if the facility does not employ sufficient staff. When diabetes is not carefully controlled, the blood will carry more sugar than it is supposed to, because the body is not able to properly process the sugar on its own.
The high sugar content of the blood damages both nerves and blood vessels in the body. As with bedsores, a reduction in circulation due to compromised blood vessels can contribute to tissue damage and degradation, but some amputations also arise due to the nerve damage that results from diabetes. Without adequate nerve function, residents may not be able to report painful injuries such as cracks in the dry skin of their feet, which open them up to infection.
Once an infection sets in due to the consequences of unstable blood sugar levels, the tissue in the area will begin to die without proper circulation—which is unlikely, due to the damage that diabetes causes to the blood vessels. As the tissue dies, the skin will begin to turn purple or even black, and gangrene will begin to set in. Gangrene is a serious issue that must be treated immediately with antibiotics and removal of the dead tissue.
If too much dead tissue is present, the limb may not be salvageable, and an amputation will be recommended. This is why diabetes is associated with a significant increase in the frequency of amputation procedures.
Trauma and Fractures Resulting in a Nursing Home Amputation
As people get older, they are more prone to accidents involving their motor abilities. Nursing homes that do not properly abide by fall assessments and other risk mitigation factors are often liable for negligence and abuse claims if residents fall or are injured in the facility. These falls are particularly dangerous for older folks, whose bodies are no longer capable of coping with a broken bone or severe bruising like they used to.
These nursing home falls are quite preventable through appropriate supervision and fall preventative measures.
Broken bones and other traumas contribute to the same circulation issues presented previously that commonly lead to amputation due to skin degradation. In addition, when a bone is broken, the exposed internal areas of the bone may become contaminated with external bacteria, resulting in a type of infection known as osteomyelitis. Infections can be particularly dangerous and effective in causing the need for an amputation, but they also contribute to another problem: swelling.
Swelling is the body’s method of coping with a broken bone by firming up the area so that the bone cannot continue to move. However, swelling puts immense pressure on the veins and muscles, and this pressure—which may become chronic, even after the bone heals—can lead to compartment syndrome. Many older individuals will elect to have a limb amputated rather than deal with the constant chronic and often severe pain of compartment syndrome.
A resident who falls or trips is not the only one at risk of amputation due to trauma, however. Abject elder abuse, such as physical abuse, can result in injuries that lead to amputation in nursing homes. Additionally, objects being dropped onto a resident (or the resident dropping an object on themselves if not properly assisted by staff) may cause injury that leads to broken bones, inflammation, or infection. Most commonly, dropped objects can break bones in the feet, inhibiting proper exercise and movement and contributing to other amputation sources such as bedsores and poor circulation.
A traumatically induced amputation is never an acceptable outcome of a long term care residency. If your loved one’s amputation was caused by a fall, drop or traumatic event, contact Senior Justice Law Firm today to learn more about your legal rights.
Poor Circulation or Peripheral Vascular Disease
As previously mentioned, insufficient circulation is an important precursor to amputations due to the skin’s inability to repair itself without oxygen and nutrients from the blood. This links amputation frequency with another common issue in the older population: peripheral vascular disease, or PVD. Many residents in nursing homes will experience some form of peripheral vascular disease, but the most common cause is atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque inside the walls of the arteries.
Atherosclerosis may already be a familiar term; it is one of the drivers behind a number of conditions associated with old age, such as heart attack and stroke. The plaque that builds up in the arterial walls causes them to narrow, restricting blood flow.
Other conditions may also result in peripheral vascular disease, including injury to a body part as well as anatomy that is simply irregular. Those affected with coronary artery disease also often have peripheral vascular disease.
One of the most common symptoms of peripheral vascular disease is intermittent claudication, or experiencing pain in an extremity during exertion that improves with rest. Because moving causes pain in peripheral vascular disease, older individuals are more likely to remain in bed—which comes with its own host of issues, such as potential bedsores and further reduction of circulation.
Many doctors will attempt a procedure called revascularization, in which they try to restore blood flow through the ischemic (low-blood) area. This can be done in the limbs using procedures similar to what doctors use for those who have suffered a heart attack; sometimes, a bypass is used to help the blood to “skip” the clogged section of the vein. Other times, a tool or band inserted into the vein and then expanded can help to keep it open. However, revascularization is an intensive procedure that is not right for everyone, and those who have not seen success with it or who cannot try it will likely be recommended for amputation.
In cases of amputation due to poor blood flow, our nursing home abuse attorneys analyze what symptoms the resident exhibited, how long they showed those symptoms, and if the nursing home acted timely in responding to those symptoms. For example, if the resident’s foot began turning purple, did the nurses call the doctor? Or ignore the obvious problem until it was too late, resulting in an amputation.
Amputation Statistics in Elderly Patients Show Most are Preventable
The National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey has been collecting data about amputations since 1992, and from this data, we can learn that nearly one in every 200 individuals has experienced an amputation. However, more than half (57%) of all amputations occur in the elderly population, with the highest number occurring in those over the age of 85 years old. Traumatic amputations—those caused by an injury or trauma—were most common in over-85s as well, indicating that many older individuals experience amputation as a result of an unexpected event that was not a naturally occurring underlying disease.
Between 300 and 500 amputations are performed daily, accounting for an average of 185,000 procedures per year. The mortality rate within the five years following an amputation is nearly half—exceeding expected mortality for some of the most aggressive cancer types, such as colon, prostate, and breast cancer.
Below-the-knee amputations are some of the most common due to circulation difficulties and diabetes in older patients. As many as 71% of all amputations occur below the knee. This number is expected to increase as diabetes becomes more common. The International Diabetes Federation anticipates that the number of diabetics will surge from 285 million to as many as 435 million by 2030. Many of these diabetics will require long term care, thus increasing the likelihood of a nursing home below the knee amputation.
Another increasing statistic is that of above the knee leg amputations in geriatric patient populations. Above the knee amputation in nursing home residents is even more catastrophic when compared to below the knee amputation, because it generally prevents the patient from ambulating on their own, permanently.
In addition to amputations above and below the knee, the other most common type specifically among the elderly is amputation of the foot, thumb and hand. Our firm has also handled nursing home amputation lawsuits involving arm and hand removal.
What to Do After a Nursing Home Amputation
Not all amputations result from incorrect care, abuse, or neglect in a nursing home. Some medical conditions such as diabetes can lead to amputation even if attended to properly. However, many of the thousands of amputations that seniors endure each year are the direct result of insufficient care from understaffed nursing homes. These amputations could have been avoided entirely, preserving the patient’s health and sparing them from the frightening five-year death statistic that is so closely associated with elderly amputees.
If you believe a family member suffered due to neglect, the long-term care facility can—and should—be held liable for its mistreatment of your loved one. Make sure to consult with an experienced and compassionate attorney that specializes in these kinds of nursing home negligence claims.
Ask a Lawyer, Was this Amputation Preventable? Should I Pursue a Nursing Home Amputation Lawsuit?
Our nursing home abuse attorneys are here to help your family get justice for your loved one’s suffering. Call us at 888-375-9998 or chat with our office using the live chat feature. All amputation case consultations are free and we charge no out of pocket fees or costs. Instead, we only get paid if you win your case.
A nursing home amputation is a grievous injury that has serious downstream physical and psychological effects on the victim. If you suspect nursing home neglect may have contributed to your loved one’s amputation, demand justice.
Contact Senior Justice Law Firm today.
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