Bedsores and Healthcare Negligence
By: John Blyth
Bedsores, which are also referred to as pressure ulcers, pressure sores, or decubitus ulcers, are—sadly and unnecessarily—a common occurrence. Since bedsores are caused by immobility, they often occur as a result of negligence on the part of a healthcare provider who fails to attend to the wellbeing of the patient. Bedsores are painful and in some cases life-threatening, yet they are easily avoided if a healthcare provider takes the proper precautions.
Bedsores are injuries to the skin and tissue beneath the skin (epidermis and dermis) and occur as a result of pressure on the skin, usually from a bed or wheelchair. This pressure decreases blood flow that delivers oxygen and other nutrients to tissues. If the nutrients are not delivered properly, the skin cells and tissue may become damaged and die. Sustained pressure is caused by immobility, which is associated with conditions such as general poor health, sedation, surgery recovery, paralysis, and comatose.
Bedsores often occur on skin protecting bony parts of the body, since the skin faces more pressure due to the friction between the bone and outside surface. As bedridden people or those in wheelchairs are most susceptible to bedsores, they frequently occur on the tailbone, buttocks, shoulder blades, spine, backs of arms and legs, back or sides of head, rims of the ears, hips, lower back, heels, ankles, and the skin behind knees.
There are four stages of bedsores. The first stage is characterized by red, sore, and unbroken skin, which may be tender or warm. The second stage occurs when the epidermis and part of the dermis is damaged or lost and the sore resembles a large blister. The third stage occurs when the sore becomes a deep wound and there is a loss of skin exposing fat. The bottom of the wound is comprised of a yellowish dead tissue and the damage could extend below the layers of healthy tissue. The fourth and final stage of bedsores consists of a large scale loss of tissue and may expose muscle, bone, and/or tendon. The tissue is dead, yellow or dark in color, and crusty. The damage may extend below the wound. Bedsores may also be considered “unstageable,” in that the surface is covered with dark tissue so that the depth of the wound is not visible.
Bedsores can lead to extremely serious, potentially life-threatening conditions. The most common consequence of stage III and IV bedsores is sepsis, which occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream through the sore. The bacteria rapidly spread throughout the body and infect it. If left untreated, sepsis can lead to organ failure. Bedsores can also lead to cellulitis, an infection of the skin and soft tissues, and bone and joint infections, which are all life-threatening illnesses. In rare cases, bedsores may lead to the development of a cancerous cell that grows specifically in non-healing wounds.
Stage I and II bedsores may be healed within several weeks with effective treatment through the use of pain management medication and antibiotics. Stage III and IV bedsores are much more difficult to treat. If a person experiences signs of a bedsore, the best treatment is to move, if possible. If there are no signs of improvement within 24-48 hours, the wound may be infected, and a doctor must be called. The signs of an infected bedsore include: fever, drainage from the sore, increased heat, and/or redness surrounding the sore. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
Bedsores are caused by immobility; when a person cannot move on their own, it is the responsibility of their caretaker to make sure that they are moved, turned, and bathed regularly. For this reason, bedsores frequently occur as a result of negligence, typically in rehab facilities, hospitals, long term care facilities, or nursing homes.
If you or a loved one is suffering from bedsores due to insufficient attention or the carelessness of a healthcare facility, contact Hach & Rose, LLP, today by calling (212) 779-0057 to speak with a qualified New York personal injury attorney.