When relatives place their loved ones in the care of nursing homes, hospices, or home health aides, their expectations are high. They trust in your professional expertise to offer their senior family members the assistance, supervision, and respect they deserve. And when something goes wrong, the patients' family members may be more inclined to sue your small healthcare business, believing you betrayed their trust.
After all, there’s already plenty of public anxiety surrounding nursing homes and hospices. Most people can recall allegations of elderly abuse and neglect that they saw in the news. These cases not only hurt the public image of elderly care facilities – they also leave your business more susceptible to malpractice lawsuits.
Take this article from The Ledger, for example. It details the years-long lawsuit against Oaks Healthcare Center, a nursing home in Florida. Arlene Townsend, a patient at the facility, repeatedly fell at the center and died (at age 69) after staying there for three years. Her son sued the nursing home, alleging it failed to properly supervise his mother. The jury awarded more than $1.2 billion in damages.
How can you ensure a similar fate doesn’t happen to your healthcare business? Keep reading for lawsuit triggers to avoid and tips for preventing negligence claims.
Malpractice lawsuit triggers for nursing homes, hospices, and home health aides
The following are the most common reasons why hospices, nursing homes, and individual home health aides are sued for professional negligence:
- Failure to adhere to standards of care. Say, for example, you fail to institute proper fall protocol. You could be sued for negligence because most nursing home, hospice, and home health professionals should know how to handle these situations.
- Failure to use equipment in a responsible manner. If the equipment misuse harms the patient, your healthcare business could be held liable.
- Failure to communicate. Poor communication is one of the most common reasons for a malpractice lawsuit. Not only can proper communication help you manage client expectations, it can also limit potential mistakes when caring for patients.
- Failure to document. The court may view an undocumented action as an action not done. Document all pertinent patient assessments, progress, and care plans.
- Failure to act as a patient advocate. As a healthcare professional, your patients rely on you to act in their best interest. If they or a family member feels you didn’t advocate for optimal care, you could be sued.
Remember, you don’t need to make a mistake or oversight to be sued for malpractice. If family members are simply unhappy with the level of care you offer, they could sue to try to recoup the money they spent on your services. To learn more about malpractice / professional liability insurance, read our post “Understanding malpractice / errors and omissions lawsuits.”
Nursing home and hospice owners: reduce the risk of being sued for malpractice
The best way to avoid malpractice lawsuits is to be prepared for unexpected snafus that may come up while caring for elderly or high-needs patients. Here are several best practices that reduce your professional liability exposures:
Your records can make or break a case against your healthcare business. For hospices and nursing homes, be sure to implement strict protocol for documenting patient assessments and developments. Any deviations from the patient’s normal state should be noted. Include what time you found this information, when you communicated it, and to whom. Also, chart all medications given, the time they were administered, and dose changes.
If you’re a home health aide, keep notes on your client’s eating habits, activities, and emotional state.
Date, time, and sign every entry.
Malpractice lawsuits often boil down to the time events happened: when the patient took a downward turn and how long it took your healthcare business to find out. That’s why all your documentation and notes should be dated, time-stamped, and legible.
Make sure you have the help you need.
Understaffing can lead to rushed care, a lack of supervision, and a wealth of other problems. Even if you are shorthanded, you still have a legal and ethical duty to provide all patients with a professional standard of care.
Develop good relationships with your patients.
Perhaps the single best way to avoid a malpractice lawsuit is to develop good relationships with patients and clients entrusted to your care. Most of the time, people are less inclined to sue someone who looks out for them and treats them with dignity and respect.
For more tips on how to prevent professional negligence claims, read “How and why to prevent malpractice / professional liability lawsuits.”
How nursing homes, hospices, and home health aides can handle a malpractice suit
It’s common knowledge that lawsuits are a drain on your time and resources – especially if a court rules in the plaintiff’s favor. Though only 25 percent of medical malpractice lawsuits succeed, the price tag attached to these claims are among the highest.
That’s why, in addition to adequate risk management planning, you should carry malpractice insurance as an extra safety measure. This policy can help you pay for:
- Attorney’s fees (which can be a small fortune – even if the lawsuit is ultimately dropped).
- Settlements or judgments.
- Other court costs.
Plus, most malpractice policies include a “duty to defend” provision, which means your insurance provider will handle your legal defense (such as hiring a malpractice lawyer) for you.