Nursing Home Dehydration and Malnutrition

As the American population ages, more Americans are living in nursing homes or long term care facilities. Unfortunately, this has meant that the number of Americans who might be suffering due to poor care in these facilities has also increased. Nursing home dehydration and malnutrition is one example of the type of poor care residents might suffer.

Nursing Home Standards and Duties of Care

When someone moves into a care facility, that facility and its staff are agreeing to take responsibility for an elder’s well being. This creates an affirmative, legal duty on the part of the facility and its staff to care for the resident. Providing enough food and water is the most basic of the facility’s obligations. The failure of the facility to do so creates a cause of action against it and any personnel specifically responsible for the failure.

The Federal Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987, or OBRA 87, created minimum standards of care and supervision that nursing home and long term care facilities must meet. It not only codified the duty of these facilities to provide proper care, but also set standards they must meet in supervising their personnel who provide the care.

Causes of Dehydration and Malnutrition

Nursing home dehydration and malnutrition can be caused either by neglect or due to abuse. The federal law requires that facilities monitor residents’ conditions and the behavior of their staff to ensure that no neglect or abuse is occurring. This means that if a resident is malnourished or dehydrated, there may in fact be two duties breached by the facility. The first is the failure to in fact provide food and water to the resident. The second duty is the failure of facility management to supervise and detect the negligent or abusive conduct of the staff.

Even in the rare instance when food or water is being deprived due to the actions of another resident, the facility has the same duty to identify that the abuse is happening, to stop it, and to provide rehabilitative care to the resident who suffered from the nursing home dehydration and malnutrition.

Illinois Law on Nursing Home Care

Many states have enacted their own versions of the OBRA 87 legal protections, especially since the federal protections only apply to those facilities that accept federal funding through the Medicaid and Medicare programs. In Illinois, its Nursing Home Care Act creates these same specific duties and standards of care on the part of long term care facilities operating in that state. This Illinois law also creates an affirmative duty of certain facility personnel to report cases of suspected abuse to the state Department of Public Health.

There can be a number of different legal claims one could file depending on the specific actions of facility staff and management, and on the nature of the damage suffered. Depending on the specific facts of the situation, there may be grounds for medical malpractice, intentional infliction of emotional distress, personal injury, or wrongful death.

In addition to filing suit on behalf of the resident for damages he or she experienced directly, some of these types of suits may allow a close family member to file for damages they suffered, either by seeing their loved one suffer or due to the wrongful death.