United Medical Center Found Liable for Patient Death

By Peter DePaolis

Officials have been investigating the patient death at United Medical Center’s nursing home for some time. The D.C. Department of Health has now decided that the hospital could not show that they assessed the patient who cried out for help repeatedly before being found dead on the floor of his room.

Investigators also determined the initial hospital report of the incident was inaccurate. Multiple shortcomings were cited by the health department officials investigating, and the conclusion was that the nursing home’s staff did not assess the patient after he complained that he could not breathe. Furthermore, the hospital left out details about the patient’s death in the report they filed with the health department.

Some details left out of the report include staff providing false accounts of what happened to the patient, and the patient’s care plan at the facility.

During the same investigation, health department regulators found that UMC did not have the proper instruments to measure the blood sugar of patients in emergency situations inside the nursing home.

What Fairfax Residents Should Know about This Incident – and How It Affects Nursing Home Care

The health department did not start its probe until the Washington Post reported on the case. An audio recording given to the newspaper showed that Webb, the victim, was crying out for at least 20 minutes and had called out 25 separate times.

Webb was lifted back into his bed, but nurses were unable to find a pulse at that time. He was transferred to the emergency room and pronounced dead.

The investigation is now over, but what does that mean for nursing home care in the area and how similar situations will be treated in the future?

Corrective Plans in Place

The UMC team has received a corrective plan from the health department that includes disciplining two of the nursing home staff members. Also, the nursing home is undergoing retraining for respiratory assessments, treatment, and documentation.

Unit managers will now be required to conduct hourly rounds of the floor and monitor the condition of all patients on that floor. The department also requires that staff be adequately trained on incident report completion because the incident report submitted to the health department was inaccurate. Now, all reports received by the health department from UMC will be monitored and reviewed directly by the nursing home administrator.

Not the First Issue for UMC

Sadly, this is not the first issue to arise from UMC. In fact, UMC was already under heavy scrutiny for their medical errors that had led to a shutdown of their obstetrics ward earlier that year. The consulting firm hired by UMC, Veritas of Washington, was voted out of their contract in November 2017, and the former chief medical officer has already filed a lawsuit claiming that he was fired for testifying about issues in front of the council.

What Does This Mean for Nursing Homes around the Country?

Nursing homes are held to a high standard. They are explicitly hired to care for loved ones, and their contracts outline the level of care they will provide in return for payment from Medicare, Medicaid, or private payment.

The recent outcome of the D.C. Health Department investigation has shed light on critical concerns with nursing homes around the country. One question is response time. Had the nurses responded to Webb’s calls, would he have survived? How soon after the initial request should nursing home staff have responded and assessed the patient?

Prompt assessments make a difference, including taking the patient’s pulse, blood pressure, blood sugar, oxygen levels, and breathing rate. When a patient is short of breath, the faster staff respond and act, the more likely it is that they will survive.

In the case of Webb, he laid on the floor for 20 minutes before receiving any attention, and even then, his vitals were only checked after he was lifted back into bed. By then, the patient could have stopped breathing long enough to cause catastrophic organ failure.

Another question raised by this investigation is the accuracy of reports filed with the health department. The inaccurate statements given to the health department are concerning enough, but some staff members provided false information. In testimony to the D.C. Council in October, that same hospital told the council that they had exhausted all resources investigating the death and found that their staff acted appropriately.

The health department found that the investigation was not exhausted or even completed. The hospital did not file another report after the patient was admitted to the emergency room, and when they finally did submit the report it was 11 days after the fact – even though the health department requires these reports in 48 hours.

These inconsistencies and errors are an example of what nursing homes should avoid around the country. More nursing homes need to focus on prompt response, but also accurate reporting. Had the Washington Post not brought to light the facts regarding Webb’s death, that death might have gone uninvestigated – and UMC nursing home may never have corrected their ways.

Holding Nursing Homes Accountable for their Actions

When nursing homes fail to provide the acceptable standard of care to their patients, they can be held liable. Not only could they face criminal charges, but they may face civil penalties as well. Regardless of whether the patient suffers an injury or death, when a nursing home’s negligence or recklessness leads to that injury the nursing home may owe the victim or their loved ones compensation.

What Compensation Can You Receive in a Nursing Home Wrongful Death Case?

In a wrongful death case involving a negligent nursing home, compensation depends on the circumstances and losses. In most cases, family members would receive compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of companionship, loss of support, and the funeral and burial expenses.

Speak with a Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect Attorney Today

If your loved one was abused or neglected in a nursing home and suffered a severe injury, you can hold them accountable. Contact an injury advocate from Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP. We can assess your options and help you seek compensation from negligent nursing homes. Furthermore, we ensure those nursing homes correct the actions that led to your loved one’s injury so that others are not harmed in the future.

Contact us at one of our three office locations or speak with a representative online.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.