Sepsis in Nursing Homes
Sepsis, also called septicemia, is a life-threatening illness. It occurs when the chemicals the body releases into the bloodstream to fight infection lead to inflammation. The body, in attempt to fight infection, has an overreaction to its own defense mechanisms. The germ fighting process becomes hyperactive and causes damage, when it’s real goal is to prevent damage. This overreaction turns into a cascade of inflammation that is difficult to control and often leads to multiple organ failure. This, in turn, can lead to septic shock, which is often fatal. While anyone can develop sepsis—for instance, it can occur after surgery—it is most common in people who have a weakened immune system and in the elderly. If a nursing home or hospital does not treat it appropriately, sepsis can turn into septic shock. Septic shock can lead to organ failure, brain damage and even death. If your loved one develops sepsis, you need to make sure that the nursing home aggressively treats the disease. You should then speak to an experienced elder abuse attorney to determine if the nursing home’s negligence caused the sepsis.
Sources of Sepsis
Sepsis starts out as a bacterial infection. Infections are common in nursing homes, and because of their weakened immune systems, the elderly should be monitored more closely than others, even for seemingly minor infections. Nursing homes are often not sufficiently staffed or trained to provide the type of monitoring that is necessary to prevent sepsis.
The bacteria can come from any number of illnesses, including:
- Bed sores
- Urinary tract infections
- Respiratory tract infections
- Infections from catheters, IVs or other tubes
Nursing home staff must be extremely vigilant to reduce the, the risk of infection developing sepsis. Competent nursing home professionals know how to care for and even avoid these underlying conditions. Unfortunately, not all professionals are competent and not all nursing homes have enough staff. The result is that sepsis occurs more often than it should.
Studies have shown that nursing home residents have a much higher risk of developing sepsis than older adults in the general population. In fact, according to a study in the Journal of Critical Care, nursing home residents were diagnosed with severe sepsis seven times more often than non-nursing home residents (14% vs 1.9%). Because sepsis is a serious, life-threatening condition, if you have a loved one in a nursing home it is extremely important to understand what sepsis is, how it is treated, and most importantly, how to prevent it.
One potential cause of such a dramatic difference in the rate of risk for sepsis in nursing home residents is nursing home abuse and neglect. Infections left untreated and ignored can have very serious consequences for residents in nursing homes. Here are some important facts about sepsis that may help to keep your love one safe and healthy while in nursing home care.
The key to protecting your loved one is knowing the signs of sepsis and holding the nursing home accountable for the care they provide. Learn the symptoms below and reach out to our nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys for help.
Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis
The most important factor that can make a difference in the outcome for a resident who develops sepsis is how quickly treatment is provided. If the nursing home staff is not attentive to residents with infection, sepsis can rapidly take over.
Regardless of where it comes from, sepsis shows itself through several symptoms. You should question the care of your loved one when and if you notice:
- Fast heart rate
- Drop in blood pressure
- Fast breathing (hyperventilation)
- Body chills
- High fever or lower-than-average body temperatures (hypothermia)
- Confusion or cognitive impairment
- Skin rash
Sepsis also leads to a drastic drop in blood pressure. This drop causes many of the body’s organs and systems to slow down or shut down completely. It is important to catch any change in physical and/or mental health as quickly as possible to protect your loved one from permanent injury or wrongful death. These are all signs that the body is fighting an infection and should not be taken lightly, especially if more than one symptom is seen in the patient.
Treating Sepsis in a Nursing Home
Sepsis requires a very complicated treatment plan with intensive monitoring in order to ensure that the treatment is not causing further complications. A delicate balance of intervention and bodily support must be maintained in order to help the body fight the raging infection. Nursing homes are often not equipped, medically or with sufficient staff, to provide the proper care that a septic patient requires.
Long-term care facilities such as nursing homes must choose carefully whether to treat a patient with sepsis in the nursing care facility or transfer the patient to a hospital intensive care unit. The choice they make can mean the difference between life and death for the patient.
If care providers diagnose sepsis early and treat it properly, leaving the patient in the facility makes sense. Unfortunately, sepsis is often not caught quickly enough or treated aggressively enough even in hospitals. In 2001, researchers found that 25 to 50 percent of individuals diagnosed with sepsis die each year. That number has increased as the years have passed. Sepsis, if not treated properly, can easily lead to septic shock or death. Therefore, you should make sure that your nursing home staff is properly and very closely monitoring all signs of infection.
Take steps now to ensure your loved one has a care plan in place to constantly monitor for sepsis. Additionally, make sure the nursing home facility you work with has the tools and competence required to react quickly to any sepsis diagnosis.
Sepsis Prevention: How to be Proactive
Nursing home staff and patient’s families should work together to reduce the occurrence of sepsis and sepsis-related complications and deaths. Of course, consistent and effective communication is the key whenever an infection arises in a resident. Also, you should take appropriate steps now to ensure your loved one has a care plan in place to monitor those conditions that give rise to a risk for sepsis.
Some questions you might ask are:
- Do you know the nursing home’s protocol for residents with infections?
- Does the nursing home have a protocol or adhere to guidelines for residents who may be showing signs of sepsis?
- Does the nursing home make use of a sepsis screening tool?
Contact Our Law Firm for Dedicated Representation
Remember, sepsis can be a sign of nursing home abuse and neglect. If a minor infection has turned into sepsis, your lawyer can help you uncover the facts. If your loved one suffered severe injuries from sepsis or septic shock, or if your loved one died after a sepsis diagnosis, we can help you hold the right people responsible.
At The Rooth Law Firm, we work hard on our clients’ behalf to ensure they receive just compensation for wrongs perpetrated against them by nursing home professionals. If your loved one suffered severe injuries from sepsis or septic shock, or if your loved one died after a sepsis diagnosis, contact our Nursing Home Abuse law firm. We will talk with you about your options during a free, confidential consultation.