Malnutrition at Nursing Homes: A Closer Look

by | Sep 9, 2021 | Injuries, Nursing Home Abuse And Neglect

It’s rather hard to believe, but about 20 percent of nursing home residents are malnourished. As outlined below, this malnutrition has a number of ill effects.

As we get older, our senses often degrade. We do not hear or see as well. Similarly, we no longer feel as hungry. Furthermore, food no longer looks, smells, or tastes good. As a result, we simply do not eat as much. Because of these issues, nursing homes should have dieticians or other professionals who roam through dining halls and make sure residents eat. However, when times get lean, these workers are often the first ones to go.

Legally, malnutrition is generally a pre-existing condition which the nursing home is at least somewhat responsible for. Therefore, the nursing home cannot use this condition against victims in court.

This legal environment means there is a good chance that a Lexington personal injury attorney can obtain substantial compensation for victims and their families. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, legal actions draw attention to the safety issues in nursing homes. So, residents can live safer and with more dignity.

Effects of Malnutrition

Extreme malnutrition, a condition which is usually fatal, is quite rare in nursing homes. Borderline malnutrition, a serious but usually not fatal condition, is much more common. Some common effects of borderline malnutrition include:

  • Muscle Wasting: People who don’t eat enough are usually weak. This weakness also affects their muscle coordination. As a result, malnourished residents are more likely to fall. These injuries are a serious problem at most nursing homes. A majority of residents have at least one serious fall, and a majority of these survivors cannot live independently thereafter.
  • Wound/Illness Recovery: When people are malnourished, they are prone to illness or injury. Additionally, it’s harder to recover from these conditions. Malnutrition usually contributes directly to bedsore injuries. These residents are more likely to develop pressure ulcers, and these open sores quickly advance to the life-threatening stage. Furthermore, when malnourished people have elective or emergency surgical procedures, it’s almost impossible to fully recover from them.
  • Breathing Problems: We have all seen how coronavirus has ravaged nursing homes. Roughly 95 percent of nursing homes have had multiple COVID-19 outbreaks which have lasted at least five months. On top of that, genetic and lifestyle issues cause many more breathing problems among nursing home residents than coronavirus. These issues are always with us.

Honorable mention, or dishonorable mention, goes to hypothermia. As muscle and tissue mass decreases, it’s harder to stay warm. Hypothermia is especially a problem in many nursing homes and hospitals. By design, these places are normally cold.

Nursing Home Negligence

As mentioned, sporadic, borderline malnutrition is often part of the aging process. So, malnutrition itself is not actionable in court. If the malnutrition is so bad that it is negligence, or a lack of care, that’s a different story. These matters are basically three-part claims. 

First, an attorney must show that the nursing home had a legal duty to the victim. Nursing home residents are invitees in Kentucky. The more residents a nursing home has, the more it benefits economically. This benefit is the key to invitee status.

If the victim is an invitee, the nursing home usually has a duty of reasonable care. More on the nursing home standard of care below.

Nursing home visitors are arguably invitees as well. Visitors make residents happier. The happier residents are, the more the nursing home benefits. So, friends and family members are arguably entitled to the same protections as nursing home residents and employees.

The duty of reasonable care varies in different contexts. For example, most drivers have a duty to drive defensively and obey the rules of the road. The standard of care in a nursing home usually focuses on safety. Falls are a good example. The facility has a duty to ensure that the property is safe. Furthermore, owners must inspect these facilities to ensure they remain safe.

Other times, standard healthcare practices are in place. In terms of bedsores, this standard usually means turning residents over in bed at least every two hours. We are all pretty familiar with the coronavirus standard of care.

Finally, a victim/plaintiff must establish knowledge of the hazard. This evidence could be direct or circumstantial. Direct evidence of actual knowledge includes things like cleaning records or incident reports. Circumstantial evidence of constructive knowledge (should have known) usually involves the time-notice rule. The longer the hazard existed, the more likely the owner should have known about it and should have done something.

Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters. #goodelawyers