Unclean hands: nursing home negligence with basic hygiene

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Aug 30, 2012 in Nursing Home Information

The people most vulnerable to serious harm from infectious diseases are the very young, the very old and the very sick. Fortunately, one of the best ways to prevent residents of nursing homes in West Virginia from being harmed by infectious diseases is also one of the easiest: hand-washing. In real terms, this means that caregivers need to use an anti-microbial soap or hand sanitizer before starting a shift, before leaving to go home from a shift, and before and after every direct contact with a resident that happens in between.

By and large, staff members at most facilities do a good job when it comes to following this best practice. According to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology, however, recent years have seen a significant rise in the number nursing home negligence cases that involve hand washing and basic hygiene deficiencies.

One explanation for the trend may be an increased emphasis on infection control problems by government inspectors. Two other reasons offered by the study's author, University of Pittsburgh gerontologist Nicholas Castle, are understaffing and insufficient training.

Castle says that most nursing home operators and staffers understand the importance of hand washing. According to the Medicare data he analyzed in conducting the study, the problem is most frequent and serious in facilities that have fewer nurses, both R.N.s and L.P.N.'s, and aides. He also said that hand washing lapses may also be more frequent in homes that have a larger percentage of residents who need more intensive hands-on care (e.g., residents with Alzheimer's or dementia).

One final note on this nursing home negligence story: nurses and nursing aides aren't the only people who can spread infectious diseases in a nursing home; family members and other visitors should be vigilant about washing or sanitizing their own hands as well.

Source: New York Times, "The Dirty Little Secret of Nursing Homes," Paula Span, Aug. 27, 2012

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