In Illinois, approximately 6,000 nursing home residents are hospitalized with sepsis infections each year, and one in five of those residents do not survive. Sepsis infections have become an epidemic in nursing homes, costing Medicare millions of dollars each year.
Sepsis is a Public Health Concern in Nursing Homes
Sepsis, a life-threatening condition, sends thousands of nursing home residents to the hospital each year. According to federal reports, sepsis is the most common reason that nursing home residents are transferred to local hospitals every year. Reports show that sepsis cases result in death more than any other resident health condition. A special analysis done by Definitive Healthcare, a private healthcare company that collects data, shows that 25,000 nursing home residents suffer from sepsis every year across the country.
Sepsis is a bloodstream infection that can create life-threatening conditions if it isn’t treated quickly. In nursing homes, most residents develop sepsis from untreated bed sores, urinary and bladder infections, skin infections, and other infections that are not properly treated. Bed sores or pressure sores, the main cause of sepsis infections, can easily be prevented in nursing homes by turning bedridden residents over every two hours. Residents who are immobile or have pneumonia and are confined to a bed are at especially high risk of developing bed sores and other types of infections. This leaves them extremely vulnerable to life-threatening sepsis infections.
Infections in many nursing home residents go unnoticed by staff because elderly residents often have various other health problems. Nurses and aides often miss the early signs of infection such as an elevated heart rate, fever, loss of appetite, and altered mental state. Since many residents have inadequate immune systems to fight infections, residents with bedsores or other infections can develop sepsis very quickly. If the condition goes unnoticed or untreated, death is usually imminent.
Illinois Ranks High for Sepsis Rates
According to the Chicago Tribune and Kaiser Health News, Illinois has one of the highest numbers of fatal sepsis conditions in the country. In Cook County, over 6,000 nursing home residents are hospitalized with sepsis infections every year, and one in five die in the hospital.
Cook County has more personal injury lawsuits due to sepsis deaths than any other metro area in the United States. Illinois state inspections show that 94 percent of nursing homes have been cited at least once since 2015 for creating conditions that increase the risk of sepsis infections. The citations were issued for improper nursing home care related to bedsores, feeding tubes, catheters, and overall safe hygiene conditions for residents.
Currently, federal regulations require a registered nurse to be on duty for at least eight hours per day, every day in a nursing home. In Illinois, a minimum of 2.5 hours per day is required for resident care. Illinois state regulators blame inadequate staffing levels for the high rate of safety violations in nursing homes. According to Kaiser Health News data, staffing levels for nurses and healthcare aides in Illinois nursing homes are among the lowest in the country. In the six-county Chicago area, 78 percent of nursing home staffing levels fall below the national average. The executive director of the Illinois Health Care Association, which represents more than 500 nursing homes, acknowledges that low staffing levels diminish the quality of nursing home care for residents. Without adequate staffing, residents have a much greater risk of developing a variety of infections and health problems. If sepsis develops and goes untreated, residents can go into septic shock, a condition that causes blood pressure to drop to dangerously low levels where organs can shut down.
The Illinois executive director, Matt Hartman, blames the Medicaid payment rates to Illinois nursing homes for inadequate staffing problems. Hartman states that Medicaid pays on average about $151 per resident per day, a rate that’s lower than most other states in the country. In Illinois, Medicaid pays for approximately 70 percent of the costs for nursing home residents.
One case in Illinois involves a Cook County man, Willie Jackson, who was a resident at Lakeview Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. The 85-year-old man developed pressure sores that were left untreated by nursing home staff, and the condition turned into a severe sepsis infection. Jackson was hospitalized several times for sepsis care. His treatment included intravenous antibiotics and painful surgeries to remove dead skin around his wounds.
In 2014, Mr. Jackson died in a Cook County hospital due to his sepsis infection. His daughter is now suing Lakeview for negligent care and the wrongful death of her father. The case is currently pending in Cook County Circuit Court. It is one of the thousands of cases filed across the country for personal injury and death caused by sepsis that developed in nursing home residents due to improper care.