Unanswered emergency call costs nursing home $850K

From South Carolina Lawyer’s Weekly, 9.9.13:

Amber Nimocks, amber.nimocks@sclawyersweekly.com

The estate of a woman who bled to death in the night at an assisted living facility earlier this summer reached a settlement worth $850,000 on claims of negligence and wrongful death.

Plaintiff’s attorney Gary Poliakoff said that Kathleen Brown, a resident of Windsor House Assisted Living and a dialysis patient, had a shunt in her arm and began to bleed from it. She pressed the emergency call button in her room many times, leaving it covered in bloody hand-prints, but died before anyone responded to the call.

“She was probably hitting it for about 15 to 20 minutes,” Poliakoff said.

Poliakoff said the plaintiffs claimed that Windsor House failed to meet the standard of care by understaffing the facility. State regulations require one staff person per floor, which the facility violated. Windsor House maintained that the facility had enough staff to satisfy minimum ratios.

Witnesses said the third-shift attendant who was assigned to Brown’s building regularly went to another building on the grounds, about 50 yards away to deliver medication, leaving Brown’s building unattended.

“That was a frequent and typical occurrence,” Poliakoff said.

Poliakoff said plaintiff’s expert Byron Arbeit, a specialist in assisted living facilities management, said the standard response time for a call bell is five to eight minutes. The plaintiff’s medical expert Dr. Alan Jackson said that had someone responded to Brown’s call within the standard time, pressure applied to the bleeding could have prevented her death.

The settlement award was 100% of the insurance coverage available.

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