A criminal case against a nursing home aide will head to trail amid allegations she flouted standard rules on how to safely lift a patient. The Mississippi Supreme Court recently reversed of a lower court decision.
Our Tampa nursing home abuse lawyers would surmise a civil lawsuit may also be in the works here as there are certainly ample grounds to assert negligence against not only the worker, but the employer as well, depending on how well the worker was trained and supervised and what policies were in place to protect residents from these situations.
The incident that gave rise to the criminal action inMississippi v. Hawkins was injury suffered by a patient while in the aide’s care. An investigation revealed the aide lifted the patient on her own, despite knowing that two people were required to assist in lifting her. This was not only for the benefit of the workers, but the patient too.
After lifting the patient, the aide improperly placed her in a lift/sling. She then walked away, leaving the woman unattended. When the elderly disabled woman fell onto the floor, she cried for help. But the aide did not call for assistance. The patient suffered numerous serious injuries as a result of that fall.
The aide’s actions were not only negligent and cold, they were criminal, state prosecutors determined. She was indicted for simple assault of a vulnerable person.
Several days before the criminal trial, the defense argued for dismissal on grounds the indictment contained an improper statement of law and that, technically, the state failed to assert a cause of action against the defendant. The trial court agreed, dismissing the case. Prosecutors appealed.
The issue was whether the trial judge erred in finding the indictment lacking. The defense argued there was ambiguity as to whether the aide’s actions were “willful, negligent and felonious,” as the statute indicated, or “purposeful, reckless, knowing,” as would be indicated under a separate subsection.
The state noted the court’s repeated interpretation that, so long as the indictment clearly describes the nature of the charge against the defendant, it is legally sufficient.
The court held that while the indictment was “drafted inartfully,” the charge was clear and therefore, the indictment was sufficient.
Injuries occurring to nursing home patients in the process of being lifted are not uncommon. The fact that only one person was present to lift this patient is unsurprising, given that so many facilities are short-staffed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recognizing how problematic this issue has become, recently issued a report. The agency noted that even under ideal lifting conditions, the weight of any adult far exceeds the lifting capacity of most caregivers, about 90 percent of whom are female.
When caregivers improperly lift patients, it can result not only in injuries relating to falls, but also dislocated shoulders, friction burns, bruises and skin tears.
The average 100-bed facility can expect to spend upwards of $30,000 on mechanical lifting equipment. It’s an expense some facilities may be inclined to forgo. Even if the initial investment is made, maintenance of these machines can be costly, and some facilities choose to “make do” for a while with what they have, putting both patients and staffers at risk.
The federal agency advises nursing home facilities to establish a written patient lift policy that includes minimum standards, the amount of lifting equipment required, training for caregivers and assessment of each patient’s individual needs.
If you or a loved one have been a victim of nursing home negligence in Tampa, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Mississippi v. Hawkins , Aug. 14, 2014, Mississippi Supreme Court
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