In theory, patients should find healing and recovery at the hospital. Sadly, elderly patients stand a high risk their condition(s) worsening during the hospital recovery period, as many elderly patients who come to the hospital for treatment of an acute medical illness become unable to live independently and perform basic functions, which can lead to disability.
In fact, studies show that one-third of patients older than 70 experience hospital-related disability during their stay. Perhaps most worrying is that this can occur even after the patient’s initial illness is treated successfully. This often means the hospital has failed to follow safe practices and has neglected its patients’ needs; however, this isn’t always the case.
In some instances, if a patient lives in a nursing home and their physician forwards any adjustments of their treatment plans to the nursing home staff, unintentional or careless errors (such as not reading updated medical charts from hospital stays) can have serious—and potentially deadly—consequences to your loved one’s health and recovery. One of the most common time frames for nursing home negligence is the period of time between being discharged from the hospital and shortly after being admitted into a nursing home.
Fortunately, there are a few steps that both hospital and nursing home staffs can take to protect their patients from further harm during the recovery period.
Maintaining a Proper Diet
Many elderly patients don’t receive the proper nutrition they need in the hospital. A lack of proper food can lead to malnutrition, and a lack of fluids to dehydration. Additionally, patients often don’t get enough sleep while at the hospital because of interruptions by hospital staff, or due to other patients sharing the room with them. For older patients who are already weakened by illness, interrupted sleep can be a serious issue and severely hinder the recovery process. For these reasons, it is critical to ensure that a patient residing in a nursing home after a period of time in the hospital receive adequate amounts of food, water, and rest as soon as they are discharged and return to the nursing home.
Ensuring Adequate Rest
Rest is essential to recovery, but a lack of mobility can cause elderly patients to become weak and lose some (or all) of their muscle functions. Even worse, some patients have their movements restricted by things like IVs or oxygen tanks. While getting enough sleep is crucial in the recovery process, so is making sure that their bedrest receives proper monitoring during their hospital stay, as well as during the recovery process in the nursing home. Improper care during periods of rest can result in pressure ulcers, also known as bedsores.
Safeguarding Against Improper Medical Practices
Another serious hindrance to recovery—both during and after a hospital stay—is the administration of harmful medication. Hospital staff may prescribe medicine or drugs to lessen a patient’s pain or prevent blood clots, but many of these medications can do more harm than good if not carefully monitored. For example, drugs like warfarin (Coumadin) increase the risk of bleeding, and can lead to life-threatening complications.
Your loved one’s physician should follow up with nursing home staff about any changes to their treatment plan—for example, new prescriptions or procedures—but this unfortunately does not always occur. Due to a variety of reasons, such as stress, volume or forgetfulness, nursing home staff may not read a patient’s chart thoroughly, and this can have serious—if not deadly—consequences.
How to Protect Your Loved Ones During Recovery
Because of the high risks elderly patients face at the hospital, hospital staff should focus on helping these patients regain their strength and return home as fully-functioning as possible. Proper nutrition and adequate fluids are vital for elderly patients, as is exercise. Hospital staff should encourage patients to get out of bed, walk around, and do things for themselves during the recovery period. Similarly, nursing home staff should assume these responsibilities once the patient is readmitted.
Hospitals should also limit the use of IVs, catheters, and potentially harmful medications as much as they can. It goes without saying that when medical equipment (like catheters) are used, they must be cleaned regularly and used according to best practice guidelines. Hospital and nursing homes alike should follow proper sanitation practices, keeping the hospital/nursing home clean, changing patients’ sheets and clothes often, and avoiding unnecessary exposure to germs by washing their hands anytime they must treat or examine their patient.
It is critical that nursing home staff become familiar with their resident as soon as possible upon being admitted into a nursing home—especially if this follows a hospital stay. Because a patient may be unable to properly respond to medical inquiries, it may be helpful to personally discuss your loved one’s condition and medical charts with staff to ensure that all aspects of their health and treatment plan are understood. By doing so, the chance of injury during the time that you loved one is most at-risk for injury post-hospitalization is dramatically reduced.
When hospital and nursing home staffs are attentive and caring toward their elderly patients, a hospital stay and the recovery period can be a time for rest and rejuvenation, rather than a cause of further harm.