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Federal inspectors find multiple facilities with no nurses on site for extending periods of time

When hospitals and nursing homes have poor levels of nurse staffing, it needlessly endangers patients

One of the most basic responsibilities of hospitals and nursing homes is to provide an adequate staff of competent registered nurses. Yet, time after time when we speak with new clients, we’re told stories of how nurses are nowhere to be found.

While I typically use the phrase nowhere to be found metaphorically, recent reporting by USA Today reveals that it sometimes applies literally.

Federal guidelines require nursing homes to have a registered nurse on duty. Yet, thousands of nursing homes have ignored federal rules by not having a single registered nurse on duty for an entire day and night at a time. The federal government has done next to nothing about it. Just 4% of the offending nursing homes were cited by federal inspectors and even fewer than that were assessed fines.

Nurses are sometimes called the eyes and ears of doctors. Nurses are trained to be patient advocates. Physicians are in and out of patient rooms quickly, but nurses are supposed to be there to administer medications, monitor patients, and look for clinical changes that doctors need to know about.

When there are sub-par staffing levels—let alone no nurses on duty at all—patient safety suffers.

When patients press the call button and there’s no help after an extended period of time, they may get out of bed to try and take care of a need themselves. For some patients, this is unsafe and can lead to falls and devastating outcomes.

That’s what happened to a client of ours in his 40s. Let’s call him Ben.

Ben was a commercial driver who drove a huge coal truck. One day he started to feel lightheaded while driving and pulled off to the side of the road. Someone called an ambulance and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) took him to the hospital, where they determined he likely had a bleeding ulcer.

He was admitted to the hospital with a plan to be scoped the next day to address the bleeding ulcer. The doctor entered orders for him to stay in bed unless he was assisted by a nurse.

During his first night in the hospital, Ben needed to go to the bathroom and pressed the call button. A nurse came to help him to the bathroom but left the room after she got him situated. Several minutes later, the nurse returned and found Ben on the floor.

When Ben got up without assistance, it apparently caused his ulcer to start bleeding and he passed out. The nurse found Ben with a bleeding cut on his head. He apparently hit his head on the sink or toilet when he fell. He died from his injuries, leaving behind a wife and a young daughter.

In other cases that we’ve handled, labor and delivery nurses were stretched then. Labor and delivery nurses have the tough job of closely monitoring two patients at once—the pregnant mother and the child she’s carrying—for signs of a problem that needs urgent or emergency medical attention. One of the tools that they use is electronic fetal monitoring, which can show problems with the pattern of the mom’s uterine contractions or concerns with the fetal heart rate.

If a hospital doesn’t have enough qualified nurses to handle a heavy patient load, there can be a delay in recognizing clinical changes that need to be communicated immediately to an obstetrician. In some situations, a delay of a few minutes can mean the difference between a normal delivery and a baby born with a profound birth-related brain injury. In some cases of placental or uterine rupture, it can be the difference between the life and death of the mother.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor nursing care in Texas, then contact a top-rated and experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney for a free strategy session about your potential case.

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.


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