A $510 fine levied against a Torrington, Connecticut (CT), nursing home for failing to properly supervise a meal during which a disabled patient choked to death on a peanut butter and jelly sandwigh highlights the ridiculously low penalties long-term care facility operators face when staff are negligent and put patients' lives in jeopardy.
Another long-term care facility in the Nutmeg State was charged just $580 after failing to administer prescribed nutritional supplements to a patient. The errr caused the woman to lose 43 pounds in less than two months.
Toothless enforcement of laws and regulations meant to protect nursing home patients are not unique to Connecticut. In 2010, a North Carolina (NC) nursing home nurse was allegedly giving opiates to at least nine of 25 Alzheimer’s patients, many of which were not supposed to be taking any medications for pain. One of the patients died, with “morphine toxicity” being cited a contributing factor. The nursing home was later ordered to pay $20,000 for committing multiple prescription errors. State Representative Nelson Dollar called the fine “ awfully small.”
Nursing homes and long-term care facilities take in tens of billions of dollars each year, and profits in the health care sector will rise as America's population ages. Fining a nursing home $510, or even $20,000, has absolutely no effect on the parent company. Since it costs far more to hire, train and properly supervise staff, nursing home operators could well figure that paying small fines makes more financial sense than preventing neglect, abuse and errors.
Many people think nursing home negligence and abuse lawsuits are unnecessary and are filed only to make money for family members or attorneys. People who think that are wrong. Companies that run the facilities have legal and ethical duties to care for our elderly friends and family members and must held accountable when they fail to meet those duties.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.