Understaffed Nursing Home Leads to Wrongful Death

Posted On January 16th, 2012 By CSSFIRM.COM

Elvira Nunziata was missing from her nursing home for over an hour before staff realized she was gone. The 92-year-old, who was wheelchair bound and suffering from dementia, had been living at Pinellas Park Care and Rehabilitation Center since August 2003.

On that tragic afternoon in October 2004, Nunziata slipped away from a group of residents at the center. Even though she had censors that alert staff of any movement, they did not notice she had left the area. After residents alerted staff that she was missing, they checked an emergency exit door stairwell and found Ms. Nunziata, still strapped in her wheelchair, at the bottom of the staircase. She died shortly after paramedics arrived.

Earlier this month, Nunziata’s family was awarded $140 million in punitive damages and $60 million in compensatory damages. The verdict was one of the largest nursing home negligence lawsuit payouts, if not the largest, in Florida history.

Chronic Understaffing Plagues Facilities

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published a report in 2009 stating that nursing homes understaffing was endangering the welfare of their patients.

Health officials concluded that understaffing in nursing homes has contributed to increased rates of severe bedsores, malnutrition, and abnormal weight loss among elderly patients. Further, a large number of those patients end up developing life-threatening infections, dehydration and other problems that could have been prevented had the nursing homes been staffed adequately, the study said.

The report recommended new federal standards to guarantee that patients receive a minimum of two hours of care each day from nurse’s aides, among other things. The study says that 54 percent of nursing homes currently fall below the proposed minimum standard.

During Nunziata’s trial, former staff testified that the nursing home was understaffed and that, before her death, she had suffered other falls, injuries and illnesses.

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