Bedsores, also known as pressure sores or pressure ulcers, are injuries to the skin and underlying tissue caused by intense or prolonged pressure over time. They can range in severity from patches of irritated skin to deep open wounds that expose muscle or bone. When discovered early, there is a good chance these sores will heal on their own in a few days. Without treatment, however, bedsores can become infected and rapidly progress into a potentially life-threatening condition with long-term debilitating effects.
Bedsores are a major concern for nursing homes.
Bedsores most often develop in people who are bedridden or immobile. People over the age of 70 are particularly vulnerable to bedsores since they are more likely to have mobility problems and thinner, more fragile skin. While the term implies these pressure injuries occur in beds, wheelchair users who can’t change positions easily are also at an increased risk. Malnutrition, poor skincare, diabetes, and circulation problems are also factors that place patients in a higher risk category.1
According to Forbes Health, pressure injuries affect up to 30% of patients living in nursing homes.2 American Family Physician Journal reports that bedsores may develop in as little as four to six hours, noting that “it is important to identify patients at high risk to initiate preventive measures, and monitor for ulcer development.”3 Common sites where bedsores develop on the body include the occiput (lower back part of the skull), shoulder, scapula (shoulder blade on upper back), elbow, sacrum region (bottom of the spine), greater trochanter (top of the femur), ischial tuberosity (lower part of the pelvis that absorbs weight when sitting), lateral malleolus (bottom of the fibula), and heel.4 These areas tend to be boney, with less muscle or tissue to pad the force of pressure against the skin’s surface.
Stages of bedsores
Bedsores are progressive with four stages, each becoming more painful and serious as the injury worsens. Depending on the severity of the bedsore, the person’s physical condition, and the presence of other diseases, bedsores can take days, weeks, months, or even years to heal.5
The affected area is unbroken but inflamed. It will appear red and feel warm to the touch.
The outer layer of the skin begins to open and may look like a cut or blister.
The sore takes on a crater-like appearance, extending into subcutaneous levels of the skin.
In this most severe stage, the wound becomes larger and deeper. Muscles, bones, tendons, and joints are often exposed. The region can become severely damaged.
Complications from bedsores
Several possible complications can result soon after the onset of a bedsore:6
- Cellulitis – Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and connected soft tissue. It causes warmth, redness, swelling, and pain to the affected area.
- Bone and joint infection – These types of infections can damage cartilage, tissue, and bone, affecting how joints and limbs work. In the most severe cases, the affected bone or joint may need to be removed surgically.
- Sepsis – Sepsis is a clinical name for blood poisoning. It is the body’s most extreme response to an infection and can quickly lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.
- Necrotizing fasciitis – Also known as “flesh-eating bacteria,” this rare infection spreads quickly and causes tissue death at the infection site and beyond.
- Gangrene – Though relatively rare, this advanced infection develops suddenly and causes tissue decay.
- Death – About 60,000 patients die each year in the U.S. as a direct result of bedsores.7
Bedsores can result from nursing home abuse and neglect.
Certainly, not all bedsores can be blamed on nursing homes. But it is the responsibility of a nursing home’s staff to prevent them from occurring and make sure proper treatment is administered or made available. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center offers the following tips to prevent bedsores from developing:8
- Check skin daily, particularly bony areas, for redness or temperature changes
- Keep skin clean and dry, using lotion to prevent it from drying and cracking
- Change positions every two hours in a bed, or shift weight every 15 minutes in a wheelchair
- Keep clothes and bed sheets dry
- Use pillows and products that relieve pressure
Unfortunately, many bedsores do occur out of nursing home abuse or neglect. The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) defines abuse as “knowingly causing physical harm or recklessly causing serious physical harm to a resident by physical contact or by use of physical or chemical restraint, medication or isolation as punishment, for staff convenience, excessively, as a substitute for treatments or in amounts that preclude habilitation and treatment.”9 Some common signs of nursing home abuse include patient agitation (especially around nursing home staff), weight loss, bruising, unexplained cuts or sores, unusual behavior changes such as not wanting to be touched or biting, and frequent illness.
Neglect means “recklessly failing to provide a resident with any treatment, care, goods or service necessary to maintain the health and safety of the resident when the failure results in serious physical harm to the resident,” according to the ODH.10 Bedsores are a common sign of neglect, along with malnutrition, dehydration, and poor hygiene.
How to report nursing home abuse and neglect in Ohio
The ODH has an Abuse, Neglect, Misappropriation, and Exploitation Program (ANME) that investigates allegations of abuse and neglect arising at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. To file a complaint against a facility and/or an individual worker, you may call 614-752-8805 or click here to file a complaint online.
For life-threatening emergencies, always call 9-1-1. In cases of abuse, you should file a report with your local police department since abuse is a crime.
A personal injury lawyer can advise whether you have a valid case.
Nursing homes receive funding from Medicare and Medicaid, making them legally obligated to comply with federal standard of care guidelines. When a nursing home or other medical facility does not provide a patient with a standard of care that prevents bedsores from occurring or does not provide treatment to avoid additional injuries, there is a good chance the victim has a case that’s worth pursuing.
An experienced lawyer specializing in nursing home medical malpractice can analyze your case and explain all your legal options.
How can a personal injury lawyer help with a bedsore case?
Dealing with nursing homes, insurance companies, and reporting agencies can become quite complicated. Hiring a qualified lawyer early on can help reduce complexities, strengthen your case, and improve your chances of success. An experienced legal team will:
- Thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding any injuries
- Gather evidence, including medical records and witness statements, and secure expert testimony as needed
- Advocate on your behalf with insurance companies, protecting your best interests
- Determine the maximum potential value for your claim based on the severity of your injury, complications, current and future medical expenses, recovery time, long-term effects, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment in life, and other considerations
- Fight vigorously on your behalf, using all the resources available to their firm
The thought of anyone experiencing any injury due to a nursing home’s negligence or medical malpractice is distressing. If you or somebody you love developed a bedsore that resulted in serious complications, you may be entitled to receive compensation. Call us at (216) 912-7402 to find out how we can help. Our initial consultations are always free, and we never charge a fee unless we win your case.
1,5 “Bedsores.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/bedsores.
2 Guzman, Susanna. “Pressure Ulcers and Bedsores: Prevention and Treatment.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 13 Aug. 2021, https://www.forbes.com/health/healthy-aging/pressure-ulcers/#footnote_1.
3,4 Jaqueline Raetz, MD, and Keren H. Wick. “Common Questions about Pressure Ulcers.” American Family Physician, 15 Nov. 2015, https://www.aafp.org/afp/2015/1115/p888.html.
6 “Pressure Ulcers Symptoms and Treatments.” Illnesses & Conditions | NHS Inform, Scotland National Health Service, https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/skin-hair-and-nails/pressure-ulcers#complications-of-pressure-ulcers.
7 Rodriguez, Adrianna. “Bedsores Kill over 60k People in the US Each YEAR. Amid COVID, Experts Worry More May Be at Risk.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 18 Nov. 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/11/18/covid-19-risk-bedsores-pressure-injuries-higher-during-pandemic/6277376002/.
8 “Pressure Ulcers.” Wexner Medical, The Ohio State University – Wexner Medical Center, https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/wound-healing/pressure-ulcers.
9,10 “Abuse, Neglect, Misappropriation, and Exploitation.” Ohio Department of Health, https://odh.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/odh/know-our-programs/abuse-neglect-misappropriation/abuse-neglect-misappropriation-exploitation.