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The Duty of Care to Nursing Home Residents in Pennsylvania

nurse helping woman holding cane

Nursing homes play a critical role in caring for elderly and vulnerable individuals who require assistance with daily living activities and medical care. Understanding the duty of care that nursing homes owe to their residents is crucial for ensuring that these facilities meet the required standards for protecting the rights of residents.


What Is Duty of Care?


The duty of care in a legal context refers to the obligation to act in a manner that ensures the safety and well-being of others. In nursing homes, this means providing residents with a standard of care that meets their physical, emotional, and medical needs. Failure to fulfill this duty can result in harm to residents and can be grounds for legal action.


Regulatory Framework


  • Federal Regulations

    • Under the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987, nursing homes must comply with federal regulations designed to ensure that residents receive quality care. These regulations include requirements for resident rights, staffing, and care planning.


  • State Regulations

    • In Pennsylvania, nursing homes are regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The state’s regulations complement federal standards and address specific requirements for staffing, resident care, and facility operations to ensure a safe and healthy environment for residents.


Key Responsibilities of Nursing Homes


Nursing homes in Pennsylvania have several key responsibilities to ensure the safety and well-being of their residents. These include:


Provision of Adequate Care

Nursing homes must provide appropriate medical and personal care tailored to each resident’s needs. This includes assistance with daily activities, medication management, and access to necessary medical services.


Prevention of Abuse and Neglect

Nursing homes must implement measures to prevent physical, emotional, and financial abuse. This includes proper training for staff to recognize and report signs of abuse.


Safe Environment

Facilities must maintain a clean, safe, and hazard-free environment. This includes proper maintenance of the building and equipment, as well as implementing safety protocols to prevent accidents.


Staff Training and Competency

All staff members must be adequately trained and demonstrate competency in their duties. This includes ongoing education and training to keep up with best practices in elder care.  Senior care facilities must also provide an adequate number of staff members to care for their patients.


Personalized Care Plans

Nursing homes must develop and implement individualized care plans for each resident, taking into account their unique medical conditions, preferences, and needs.


Proper Nutrition and Hydration

Providing residents with balanced meals and adequate fluids is essential for their health and well-being. Special dietary needs must be accommodated.


Specific Duties to Prevent Common Issues

Prevention of Pressure Ulcers

Pressure ulcers, or bedsores, are a common issue in nursing homes and can be a sign of neglect. To prevent pressure ulcers, nursing homes must:

  • Regularly Reposition Residents

    • Move immobile residents at regular intervals to relieve pressure on vulnerable areas of the body.

  • Conduct Frequent Skin Inspections

    • Regularly check residents’ skin for early signs of pressure ulcers and take immediate action if any are found.

  • Manage Incontinence

    • Keep residents clean and dry to prevent skin breakdown caused by moisture.


Prevention of Falls

Falls are a leading cause of injury in nursing homes. To prevent falls, facilities must:

  • Assess Fall Risk

    • Regularly assess each resident’s risk of falling and implement personalized strategies to mitigate these risks.

  • Provide Mobility Aids

    • Ensure that residents have access to walkers, canes, and other mobility aids as needed.

  • Maintain Safe Pathways

    • Keep hallways and common areas free of obstacles and ensure proper lighting.


Prevention of Other Common Issues

Other common issues in nursing homes that require attention include:

  • Medication Errors

    • Implement strict protocols for medication administration to prevent errors.

  • Dehydration and Malnutrition

    • Monitor residents’ intake and ensure they receive adequate nutrition and hydration.

  • Social Isolation

    • Promote social interaction and activities to prevent loneliness and mental health decline.


Legal Recourse for Breach of Duty

When a nursing home fails to meet its duty of care, residents or their families may have grounds for a negligence claim. To establish negligence, it must be shown that the nursing home’s breach of duty directly caused harm to the resident.

Evidence is crucial in proving negligence. This includes:

  • Medical Records

    • Detailed documentation of the resident’s condition and treatment.

  • Care Plans

    • Records of the care plans and any deviations from them.

  • Witness Testimonies

    • Statements from staff, residents, and family members.

  • Photographic Evidence

    • Photos of injuries, unsafe conditions, or signs of neglect.


If neglect or abuse is suspected, it is important to take action:

  • File a Complaint

    • Report the issue to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which will investigate and take appropriate action.

  • Seek Legal Advice

    • Consult with a lawyer specializing in nursing home abuse and neglect to explore legal options and ensure the resident’s rights are protected.


Victims of nursing home neglect may be entitled to compensation for:

  • Medical Expenses

    • Costs related to treating injuries or conditions caused by neglect.

  • Pain and Suffering

    • Compensation for physical pain and emotional distress.

  • Other Related Costs

    • Additional care expenses, rehabilitation, or relocation to another facility.


Understanding the duty of care and responsibilities of nursing homes is essential for ensuring that residents receive the quality care they deserve. In Pennsylvania, both federal and state regulations provide a framework for protecting residents’ rights and well-being. If you suspect that a nursing home is not meeting its obligations, taking prompt action can help address the issue and secure the necessary care and compensation.

For more information or to discuss a potential claim, contact the experienced attorneys at Fiffik Law Group today. We are dedicated to advocating for the rights of nursing home residents and ensuring they receive the quality care they deserve.


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