Avoidable sepsis infections send thousands of seniors to gruesome deaths
Originally published on Heath Leader
Shana Dorsey first caught sight of the purplish wound on her father's lower back as he lay in a suburban Chicago hospital bed a few weeks before his death.
Her father, Willie Jackson, had grimaced as nursing aides turned his frail body, exposing the deep skin ulcer, also known as a pressure sore or bedsore.
"That was truly the first time I saw how much pain my dad was in," Dorsey said.
The staff at Lakeview Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, she said, never told her the seriousness of the pressure sore, which led to sepsis, a severe infection that can quickly turn deadly if not cared for properly. While a resident of Lakeview and another area nursing home, Jackson required several trips to hospitals for intravenous antibiotics and other sepsis care, including painful surgeries to cut away dead skin around the wound, court records show.
Dorsey is suing the nursing center for negligence and wrongful death in caring for her dad, who died at age 85 in March 2014. Citing medical privacy laws, Lakeview administrator Nichole Lockett declined to comment on Jackson's care. In a court filing, the nursing home denied wrongdoing.
The case, pending in Cook County Circuit Court, is one of thousands across the country that allege enfeebled nursing home patients endured stressful, sometimes painful, hospital treatments for sepsis that many of the lawsuits claim never should have happened.
Year after year, nursing homes around the country have failed to prevent bedsores and other infections that can lead to sepsis, an investigation by Kaiser Health News and the Chicago Tribune has found.
No one tracks sepsis cases closely enough to know how many times these infections turn fatal.
However, a federal report has found that care related to sepsis was the most common reason given for transfers of nursing home residents to hospitals and noted that such cases ended in death "much more often" than hospitalizations for other conditions.
A special analysis conducted for KHN by Definitive Healthcare, a private health care data firm, also suggests that the toll — human and financial — from such cases is huge.
Examining data related to nursing home residents who were transferred to hospitals and later died, the firm found that 25,000 a year suffered from sepsis, among other conditions. Their treatment costs Medicare more than $2 billion annually, according to Medicare billings from 2012 through 2016 analyzed by Definitive Healthcare.
In Illinois, about 6,000 nursing home residents a year who were hospitalized had sepsis, and 1 in 5 didn't survive, according to Definitive's analysis.
"This is an enormous public health problem for the United States," said Dr. Steven Simpson, a professor of medicine at the University of Kansas and a sepsis expert. "People don't go to a nursing home so they can get sepsis and die. That is what is happening a lot."
The costs of all that treatment are enormous. Court records show that Willie Jackson's hospital stays toward the end of his life cost Medicare more than $414,000. Medicare pays Illinois hospitals more than $100 million a year for treatment of nursing home residents for sepsis, mostly from Chicago-area facilities, according to the Medicare claims analysis.