Ideally, long-term health care facilities such as nursing homes will provide your loved one with long-term assisted living that respects their dignity. Georgia law recognizes three types of long-term health care facilities: personal care homes; skilled nursing facilities; and intermediate care homes. Some are privately owned, while others are state-owned. Some receive Medicare/Medicaid funding. And some care for the elderly or children or those who suffer from severe mental and physical challenges. Unfortunately, as the above-mentioned incident illustrates, regardless of who owns the home, or what type of long-term health facility it is, many times your loved one is mistreated (institutionally abused), a reality that really enrages and hurts both the abused person and those who love and care about him or her.
Recognizing an area of needed involvement, the Georgia legislature enacted a bill of rights for residents of long-term health care facilities (O.C.G.A. § 31-8-100). These rights include the right to receive care and treatment, and services, adequate and appropriate for your loved one’s condition; the right to choose amongst different forms of treatment; the right to refuse treamenent; the right to request a different doctor; the right to participate in the care and treatment plan developed for you or your loved one; the right to privacy; and the right to only be restrained in extremely limited circumstances, amongst others.
The object and purpose of Georgia’s patient bill of rights is to ensure respect for the dignity and self determination of each person living in a long-term health care facility. Additionally, because the legislature recognized the special circumstances in which these vulnerable people find themselves, and their potential to be abused and neglected, Georgia law allows you or a legal guardian to sue for damages for any violation of the Bill of Rights. Also, you should know that you may bring a suit, without exhausting administrative remedies.
Institutional abuse comes in many forms. Be on the look out for signs of mistreatment such as an unexplained or unexpected death of a patient; a serious injury such as broken bones; unexplained sores, welts and bruises; infections; unusual weight loss or weight gain; extreme dehydration; choking/gagging; and illnesses such as chronic aspiration/aspiration pneumonia (the elderly are particularly susceptible to this); and poor personal hygiene. A good lawyer will understand not only how to spot abuse but also how to uncover abuse through records request, testimony and other avenues.
Another reason you need a good lawyer to deal with nursing home abuse is the fact that there are so many laws and causes of action which apply to this situation. For example, and as stated, most long-term health care facilities receive federal and state funding, so Medicare/Medicaid regulations will apply. However, although Georgia law provides a private cause of action, many applicable federal laws such as 42 U.S.C. § 1395 do not. But the fact that a federal law does not provide a private cause of action does not mean that the standards established by those regulations cannot be used to demonstrate that a long-term heath care facility violated a standard of care it owed to your loved one.
Furthermore, you may have several different causes of action (legal claims) against the long-term health care facility. For example, you may have a professional negligence claim. This typically involves negligent conduct of a nurse or medical care provider. When a medical provider is responsible for injuring you or a loved one, hospital’s may be liable for those inujuries under the doctrine of respondeat superior, which means the employer of the negligent nurse/physician/medical provider is held liable. This type of claim is classified as a medical malpractice claim; that means that a host of procedural and substantive issues are involved. If your lawyer fails to follow “particular” procedural rules, your claim could be thrown out of court, forever.
Or, you may have an ordinary negligence claim, which typically does not involve an expert opinion or the tricky rules associated with professional negligence (malpractice) claims. Or, you may have a premises liability claim or a breach of contract claim or a class action claim. As you can read, a good lawyer is necessary to properly apply the facts of your case to all the applicable Georgia and federal laws and regulations, to ascertain which claim(s) you may have, and of those claims, which ones provide you with the best opportunity to maximize your recovery.
Ultimately, the outcome of you case will depend on many variables.
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