What is sepsis?
Sepsis refers to any infection that has become serious and potentially life-threatening. In more detail, sepsis occurs when the bloodstream releases chemicals to fight off an infection, and these chemicals cause inflammation, damaging the body’s internal organs. Sepsis often occurs with pneumonia or infections in the abdomen, kidneys, or bloodstream. If left untreated, sepsis can turn into septic shock: a critical condition that commonly results in death.
Symptoms of sepsis include fever, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, confusion or an altered mental state, and a rapid heartbeat. Sepsis occurs more commonly in older adults who already have compromised immune systems. In addition, the presence of illness, injury, and indwelling catheters puts a person at greater risk for developing sepsis.
How is sepsis caused by nursing home neglect or abuse?
Clearly, many nursing home residents are at greater risk of developing sepsis due to their age and weakened immune systems. When nursing homes neglect their duty by providing inadequate care, using medical equipment improperly, or failing to guard against infection and the spread of disease, residents often suffer. This may happen when caregivers fail to wash their hands frequently enough or allow a resident with a compromised immune system into contact with another resident who has a contagious disease or infection. It may also happen when caregivers neglect standard infection control practices in dealing with catheters, feeding tubes, or IVs.
What should a nursing home do to prevent sepsis?
To prevent sepsis, nursing homes should treat infection promptly, watch for warning signs, and limit their use of catheters and similar devices. Nursing home regulations for Georgia specify that a nursing home should never use a urinary catheter unless a resident’s condition absolutely requires it. In this case, nursing homes must use catheters in such a way as to minimize infection, which means caregivers should keep the catheter clean, carefully manage fluid flow, and regularly reassess the resident to check for signs of infection.
Nursing homes can also minimize the spread of germs by training caregivers to use gloves and wash their hands frequently, especially when treating infected residents. Nursing homes should isolate residents who have contagious diseases. In addition, nursing home staff should promptly treat injuries and pressure ulcers which have the potential to become infected.
Can the nursing home be held responsible for sepsis?
Because a nursing home has a legal duty of care towards its residents, by Georgia law, a nursing home can be held responsible for sepsis if the nursing home failed to use reasonable care to prevent sepsis. Sepsis is potentially life-threatening, is a common problem among elderly adults, and is often preventable, so nursing homes have little excuse for failing to watch for sepsis and treat it quickly when it arises.
If a nursing home is held responsible for sepsis, then that facility may be legally required to pay damages to the injured party (the resident who suffered from sepsis). Damages include money for medical expenses related to the infection, and money for any pain and suffering the resident experienced as a result of the nursing home’s neglect.