In a ruling that could set a legal precedent for nursing home care, the Arkansas Supreme Court determined that a one-person nursing home board wasn’t ultimately responsible for a patient’s neglect.
“Duty…(recognizes) that relations between individuals may impose upon one a legal obligation for the other,” the court said in official documents. “We found that (the board) owed no personal duty to (the patient.)”
The patient, Minnie Valentine, was 73 when she died, according to Fort Smith’s Citywire.com, and had spent her last six months on a grueling regimen of nursing homes and hospitals. Her family alleges that her health deteriorated as a result of poor care at Little Rock Health Care & Rehab (LRHC) – the first nursing home she entered after having a stroke in May 2004.
“Valentine entered LRHC with a feeding tube, a urinary tract infection, and a pressure sore on her coccyx,” court papers say. “Despite treatment, Valentine’s pressure sore did not heal. Additionally, she showed signs of dehydration and malnutrition.”
Valentine was subsequently treated unsuccessfully at two hospitals and another nursing home – a fact the Supreme Court used to determine its verdict.
“(Valentine’s) medical problems were the result of inevitable medical decline rather than negligence,” court documents said. “Her medical records tended to show that her general medical condition was the proximate cause of her injuries, rather than her care.”
The verdict was lauded by the Arkansas Health Care Association, and disputed by the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA).
“The ruling creates a potentially more dangerous environment for nursing home residents,” said ATLA Public Affairs Director Nathan Pittman. “If nursing home owners can’t be held responsible for harms done in their homes, it seems they would be less likely to operate those homes in a responsible manner.”
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