Implications of Hurricane Sandy for California Nursing Homes

Although Californians fortunately were not directly affected by Hurricane Sandy, the disaster poses many implications for disaster preparedness in the health care industry. A recent article published by the New England Journal of Medicine titled “Disaster Resilience and People with Functional Needs” discusses strategies that can be used by the health care industry to minimize the adverse effects of natural disasters on medical patients. The article emphasizes the importance of maintaining an established day-to-day system of organization within the facility, even in the absence of a natural disaster. In nursing homes, for example, it is the responsibility of the Administrator and the Director of Nursing to ensure that the facility is operating smoothly, with sufficient staff to meet patient needs.

One strategy recommended by the article is the adoption of an electronic system of maintaining health records. In the midst of a disaster, paper records are often destroyed, leaving health care facilities unorganized and without information on their patients. The Department of Health and Human Services, recognizing the utility of electronic health records, has started to use payment incentives under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act to encourage health care facilities to make the transition from paper to electronic records. In terms of day-to-day use, electronic health records will serve to improve care provided to patients with functional needs, who are frequently transferred back and forth from hospitals to nursing homes.

Numerous studies in the past have concluded that poor documentation of a patient’s condition can lead to serious injuries, including pressure ulcers. Nurses frequently make inaccurate and contradictory assessments when staging their patients’ pressure ulcers, which is detrimental to the healing of a pressure ulcer since different stages warrant different treatments.

Another study links poor documentation to the improper administration of antidepressant drugs, which can lead to injury, and even death. It is extremely important that skilled nursing facilities carefully document every drug that is administered to its residents, especially since nursing home patients are usually on several drug regimes at once, putting them at a high risk of polypharmacy.

Unfortunately, nurses in understaffed facilities are forced to take shortcuts, and quite often, the provision of accurate and detailed documentation is one of the first duties to be breached. Failure to maintain detailed and organized medical files leads to poor communication among nurses working different shifts, physicians, and future caretakers. Consequently, quality of care and the health of the patient suffers.

At the Law Offices of Ben Yeroushalmi, we recognize and understand the significance of medical records. In fact, with every new case, our first step is always to obtain the patient’s complete medical file from every past hospital and nursing home to which he or she was ever admitted. With experts and elder abuse specialists to review every detail of our client’s medical records, the Law Offices of Ben Yeroushalmi is equipped with the knowledge and experience to help you and your loved one through this difficult time. Contact us today for a free consultation.