Can bed sores cause death?

Can bedsores cause death?

Bedsores can and do cause death every day. A Stage 3 or Stage 4 bedsore is like an open door for bacteria and infection. Once in the wound, infection leads to sepsis and septic shock, followed by organ failure and death. 

However, bedsores are not necessarily a death sentence. Proper nutrition, consistent wound treatment, and a strict regimen of offloading pressure helps bedsores heal and can prevent infection or death. 

Bedsore death from infection may be a sign of nursing home negligence. Nursing home staff are required to follow physician’s wound treatment orders, monitor the bedsore, and implement a turning and repositioning schedule. Generally, when these things are not done, infection sets in. Unfortunately, once infection and sepsis occurs, the mortality rate increases significantly. 

How often do bedsores cause death?

Nearly 60,000 people die from complications due to bedsores every year. That’s one person every nine minutes

Over 55% of nursing home residents die from bedsores within 6 weeks of the onset of the wound. In fact, nursing home residents with bedsores experience a 6-month mortality rate of over 75%. 

During a recent period, bedsores directly caused over 114,000 deaths nationwide. 80% of those deaths were of persons 75 years or older.

Sadly, bedsore mortality has been shown to be higher among African Americans. African Americans suffered not only more bedsore related deaths, but more severe, higher-staged ulcers. In a recent study, the median stage bedsore among African Americans was Stage 3, while the median stage in Caucasian persons was Stage 2.


Who is most likely to die from bedsores?

Although bedsores can kill persons of all ages and backgrounds, there are certain populations that are more susceptible.

  • Advanced Age. People 64 years or older are more likely to suffer from bedsores and death.
  • Nursing Home Residents. Recent studies show that over one quarter of all instances of pressure ulcers occur in nursing homes. In fact, in 2004, 11% of all nursing home residents in the country had bedsores. Most nursing home residents have multiple risk factors, including immobility, sensory deficiency, and incontinence.
  • Circulatory Problems. Bedsores are more likely to occur when blood flow is already impaired due to a chronic illness associated with circulation. As such, persons with a diagnosis of stroke, hypotension, diabetes of any type, coronary artery disease, and hypoxia are at heightened risk.
  • Pulmonary and Renal Problems. Bedsores tend to develop more often when blood cannot be oxygenated, or when red blood cells are prevented from being generated by the body. Therefore, persons with pulmonary disease, end stage renal failure, or severe anemia are at increased risk.
  • Malnutrition. Nutrition plays a large part in healing wounds. When a resident has chronic conditions that impair nutrition intake, the likelihood of death increases. Persons with dysphagia, diarrhea, and cancer may be at increased risk of death from bedsores.

How do you prove bedsores caused a death?

Proving that a bedsore actually caused a death can be very difficult. Why? Because it is not enough that the nursing home’s negligence caused the bedsore. The bedsore must be the actual and proximate cause of the passing. Many people have bedsore but pass away from other causes, particularly elderly nursing home residents. Having strong evidence to link the bedsore to the passing is crucial. 

  • Death Certificate. In Georgia, a certified death certificate serves as prima facie evidence of (1) the death itself and (2) the immediate agency of the death. This means that there is a rebuttable presumption that the causes of death listed are the actual causes.  Myers v. Myers, 195 Ga. App. 529 (1990). As such, the death certificate can play a crucial role in a bedsore case when sepsis, septic shock, bacteremia, or septicemia, are listed as a result of decubitus ulcer, pressure ulcer, bedsore, or pressure wound. To learn more about death certificates, and how death certificates can be amended, check out Episode 88 of the Nursing Home Abuse Podcast.
  • Autopsy. An autopsy an in-depth medical examination by a medical doctor of a patient who has died. The autopsy is both an external examination as well as an internal examination and is conducted for the purposes of diagnosing disease, injuries, and the cause of death. Autopsy results can often shed light on whether a bedsore caused the passing and whether other issues were to blame as well. To learn more about autopsies, including how to request a private autopsy, check out Episode 77 of the Nursing Home Abuse Podcast.
  • Expert Testimony. In Georgia, to prove that a bedsore caused a death requires testimony by an expert witness. For example, a medical doctor with experience in treating wounds may have the knowledge required to testify that a bedsore is the cause of death, “to a reasonable degree of medical certainty.”
  • Lab Results. Often, a particular bacteria can cause an infection, which in turn causes the body to shut down. At the hospital or clinic, tests can be conducted to determine where the particular strain originated. Sometimes, lab results can connect the death to the bacteria located in the wound. 

What does a deadly bedsore look like?

Typically, death occurs once the bedsore has reached full thickness at Stage 3 or Stage 4. “Full thickness” simply means that the wound extends beyond the first two layers of skin. Although full thickness wounds can occur when the skin is still intact, these are not as prevalent. 

  • Stage 3: At this stage, the wound is often at full thickness and has cut down into granulation tissue. The top layer and the second layer of skin are gone, but the wound has not yet made it down to muscle, tendon, bone, ligament.
  • Stage 4: At this stage, the wound is full thickness and may be down to bone, tendon, and muscle. The wound may have an epibole, sinus tract, and underlining.

How does bad nursing home care cause bedsores?

Every nursing home is required by Federal and state law to take precautions aimed at reducing bedsore occurrences. In fact, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services may cite a nursing home for failing to take the proper precautions. So what are those requirements? 

  • Comprehensive Assessment. Every resident admitted to a nursing home must be assessed from head to toe for skin impairments. Also, the facility must calculate the resident’s risk level for developing bedsores.
  • Care Plan. Once the assessment is conducted, the data acquired is used to create an action plan. Called a care plan, this document details the ways in which the nursing home should prevent bedsores. For example, a proper turning/repositioning regime or an increase in protein intake at meal time.
  • Update Care Plan. Assessment does not stop after the care plan is created. If problems arise afterwards, then the nursing home is obligated to update the care plan with new ideas and interventions. 

Bad care means that the nursing home fails to complete one of the three steps above. Essentially, the resident that comes into the nursing home with no bedsores should leave the nursing home with no bedsores. 

Can you sue a nursing home for bedsore death?

Yes. You can sue a nursing home if a loved one has died as a result of bedsores. In fact, often other entities associated with the nursing home may be sued as well. These entities include management companies, shell corporations, the “main office,” and others. Further, individuals may be sued as well, like the owners, the administrator, and directors. 

Often there are two claims: The Estate of the deceased’s claim for personal injury and the claim by the relatives called wrongful death. The Estate may be entitled to recover damages for pain and suffering, medical bills, funeral expenses, and other related expenses. The wrongful death claim holders may be entitled to recover for the loss of value of the life of the resident. 

How are bedsores caused?

Bed sores, also called pressure ulcers or decubitus ulcers, are injuries to the skin and underling tissue resulting from pressure on skin. Bed sores often occur when nursing home residents are immobile or bedridden and develop on parts of the body that make the most contact with surfaces- tailbone, ankles, heels, and hips.

Bed sores develop in four stages. In stage one, the skin begins to turn red and may feel warm. It may be painful to the touch. In stage two, the wound opens as the skin breaks down. In stage three, the wound area becomes deeper as more tissue begins to die. In stage four, there is large scale tissue loss.

When bed sores progress to the later stages, they can lead to other complications that are fatal for nursing home residents. Three of the more common deadly problems arising from bed sores are osteomyelitis, sepsis, and gangrene.  

Osteomyelitis: This condition is an infection of the bone. The infection starts at the affected tissue, moves into the bloodstream, and then travels to the bone. Often the infection can begin in the bone at stage 4.  

Sepsis: Sepsis is a condition in which bacteria from the bed sore enters the bloodstream an infects other parts of the body. Sepsis may lead to organ failure and death if not treated quickly.

Gangrene: This is a condition where the body’s tissue dies due to loss of blood supply. In residents with bedsores, the loss of blood supply is the result of infection from the wound area.

Without fast, proper treatment, these three conditions may lead to death. In fact, in cases of septic shock, the mortality rate is as high as 50%.

If your loved has passed away at a nursing home or assisted living facility, and you are wondering if it was a result of bed sores, then please, feel free to call and speak to one of our experienced Georgia nursing home neglect lawyers today. Our consultations are always free.