Aging Options

Special Report: Thousands of Nursing Home Residents Die from Preventable Infection Linked to Staffing Shortage

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A damning article on the website of Kaiser Health News, just published a few days ago, reports that thousands of senior nursing home residents are dying each year due to a type of infection that is almost always preventable. Analysts suggest that chronic short-staffing in many of the nation’s nursing homes is largely to blame.

Devastating Toll of Neglect

“Avoidable Sepsis Infections Send Thousands of Seniors to Gruesome Deaths,” screams the headline on the Kaiser story. The exposé, the result of an investigation jointly conducted by Kaiser Health News and the Chicago Tribune, reports that these infections are not being watched closely enough, and the results of this neglect are devastating. “No one tracks sepsis cases closely enough to know how often these severe infections turn fatal,” says the article. “But the toll — both human and financial — is enormous.” We share this important article as a cautionary tale to anyone with a loved one living in a nursing home, to make certain his or her care is not being neglected.

First of all, what is this potentially deadly condition called sepsis? According to Kaiser Health News, it’s a bloodstream infection that can develop in bedridden patients. Sepsis can occur along with pneumonia, urinary tract infections and other conditions, but one of the biggest worries are pressure sores which occur when patients lying in bed are left in one position too long. “They largely can be prevented by turning immobile people every two hours and by taking other precautions,” the article says, adding that nursing homes are required by federal regulations to adopt strict infection-control standards to minimize harm. But in spite of these dangers and the rules designed to prevent injury, “the failures that can produce sepsis persist and are widespread in America’s nursing homes, according to data on state inspections kept by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.” A large number of families have sued nursing home operators as a result of poor care given a loved one, but usually those lawsuits remain out of the headlines, says Kaiser. “Many of the lawsuits allege that bedsores and other common infections have caused serious harm or death. The outcome of these cases is not clear, because most are settled and the terms kept confidential.”

High Cost of Sepsis

As we said above, data on the rate of sepsis cases and their outcome is poorly tracked, so definitive information has been elusive. But, according to Kaiser, a recent federal report found that sepsis-related care was “the most common reason given for transfers of nursing home residents to hospitals.” This same report noted that such cases ended in death “much more often” than hospitalizations for other conditions. In examining the data concerning this hidden health crisis, Kaiser Health News found that at least 25,000 seniors per year who are transferred from nursing homes to hospitals in the U.S. and subsequently die are suffering from sepsis. The cost of their treatment to Medicare is estimated at more than $2 billion annually. As part of the study, analysts found that in Illinois alone about 6,000 nursing home residents a year are hospitalized with sepsis, and the death rate related to the infection is about 20 percent – roughly 1,200 sepsis-related deaths per year in one state alone.

One sepsis expert from the University of Kansas told Kaiser, “This is an enormous public health problem for the United States. People don’t go to a nursing home so they can get sepsis and die. [Yet] that is what is happening a lot.” As one Miami lawyer familiar with these cases starkly put it, “Little infections turn to big infections and kill people in nursing homes.”

Understaffing Can Cost Lives

Just a few months ago we published this article on the AgingOptions blog about the chronic understaffing in many nursing homes nationwide. Now this new alert about the prevalence of sepsis puts the staffing shortage in the spotlight.  “Much of the blame [for sepsis infection], regulators and patient advocates say, lies in poor staffing levels,” says the Kaiser article. “Too few nurses or medical aides raises the risks of a range of safety problems, from falls to bedsores and infections that may progress to sepsis” or even more serious conditions.  In other words, the lack of trained staff in many nursing homes is much more than an inconvenience: it could be life-threatening.

That’s why we urge family members to visit the institutions where their loved ones live, especially during off-hours such as evenings and weekend mornings. Ask questions about staffing levels. Make certain your loved one is getting the care he or she deserves, and don’t hesitate to complain to management or even law enforcement if you suspect neglect. Most nursing homes do their best to take care of residents, and most staff members work hard at their jobs, so our advice is not to be suspicious, but to be extremely vigilant. Your loved one’s health depends on it.

A Comprehensive Plan

What about planning for your own retirement? Would you say your retirement plan is on track, or could it use some work? In our experience here at AgingOptions, one of the biggest mistakes people make is failing to plan for all the pieces of retirement, instead focusing only on one element, such as finances or housing. But how much money you’ve saved is no guarantee of a secure retirement, nor is your desire to age in place in your own home any guarantee that you’ll be able to accomplish it. You need a comprehensive plan in which finances and housing plans work hand in hand with medical coverage and family communication, all protected by a robust legal framework. We call that a LifePlan, and it’s the only retirement plan of its kind we know of, designed to help you achieve the retirement you’ve always hoped for.

There’s a quick, enjoyable and no-cost way to find out more: accept Rajiv Nagaich’s invitation to join him at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar. We offer these highly popular events in locations around the Sound, so for a complete calendar of upcoming seminars visit our Live Events page and register for the date and time of your choice. You can successfully protect your assets, avoid becoming a burden to those you love, and escape being forced into unplanned institutional care, thanks to the power of an AgingOptions LifePlan. Age on!

(originally reported at

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