Skilled Nursing Facility: Options When Something’s Not Right

Skilled Nursing Facility: Options When Something's Not Right by Jonathan Howell, Esq.

My client didn’t expect that her mother would die at a skilled nursing facility. The doctor said she would only be there for 2-3 weeks. Her mother needed to rehabilitate after a short hospital stay. Then she could be back to living independently at home. My client visited her mother regularly at the facility. She checked in often with the nurses and spoke directly to the doctor about how things were progressing. Everything was going well and according to plan. 

            One day, my client visited her mother and noticed that her health had dramatically shifted in the wrong direction. She wasn’t speaking right, she was weak, and she wasn’t eating. Her mother seemed confused and had trouble communicating. When my client spoke to the nursing staff, they shrugged her off. She contacted the doctor and sent him a text message. He didn’t respond. My client knew something was wrong, but the facility staff was nonchalant. Perhaps they saw her as just another overzealous family member second-guessing their care.

            Less than 24 hours later, my client got a call from the facility. Her mom had passed away. An autopsy revealed it was a myocardial infarction, commonly referred to as a heart attack. My client tried to get answers, but she was stonewalled.

            “If you were so concerned, why didn’t you call 911?” the facility director told her. Her mother’s doctor also failed to provide an adequate explanation.

The Action That Changed Her Case

Normally, this would be a difficult case to handle. In the natural course of life, people have heart attacks. Sometimes there is nothing you can do about it. But my client did something that fundamentally changed her case. She contacted the California Department of Public Health and filed a complaint. This triggered an investigation including a review of medical records and interviews with facility staff.

            The government investigation found many deficiencies including the failure to respond and document a significant change in the patient’s condition. The investigation also uncovered questionable entries in the records which were made after the mother’s death. They had been backdated. The complaint was then referred to the Federal Department of Health and Human Services for further review.

            The government investigator typically gets access to evidence and testimony a lot faster than I would as a private attorney for people who have been hurt or lost a loved one at a skilled nursing facility. The government investigator was able to conduct interviews with staff and uncover key issues. By the time the client contacted us, she had the results of the investigation which painted a much clearer picture of what happened to her mother. We were able to use it while conducting our own investigation during litigation. Based on everything we uncovered, our medical expert confirmed our client’s mother probably would have lived if she had been treated properly.

What You Can Do

It is important to know that it is okay to question the care your loved one is receiving, especially if you feel that you are being stonewalled. You can tell when their health has gotten worse, and you have a right to bring attention to it. Notify the staff. Call the Doctor. Insist on action right away. If you don’t get it, call 9-1-1. Like my client, if you or someone you know suspects that a skilled nursing facility did something wrong, you should consider filing a complaint with the California Department of Public Health. They can get access to records and question staff which can be valuable later in litigation.

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Written by Jonathan Howell
Jonathan Howell helps people who have been hurt or lost a loved one due to the carelessness or recklessness of another. He has dedicated his practice to representing only individuals and families, helping them through traumatic experiences, and maximizing their legal recovery. Jonathan Howell has handled trials in state and federal court against the largest, toughest defendants including against US attorneys, a large hotel chain, and the largest insurance companies. He has also handled cases in different states including a major burn injury case in federal court in Hawaii and an insurance bad faith case in Montana. He has handled complex injury cases including brain injuries and severe spinal injuries. He also has successfully litigated sexual assault cases including against a major hospital. He has extensive experience handling traffic collision cases including against major trucking companies and ride share companies like Lyft and Uber. He has been in the Super Lawyers list for years including the top 100, up and coming. He also been nominated for an award by the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles. He has written a number of legal articles and given talks to attorneys and other professionals. He can be reached at www.howelljustice.com or jon@howelljustice.com.

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