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Mishandled Staph Infection – Medical Malpractice or Nursing Home Negligence? Or Both? Or Neither?

Mishandled Staph Infection – Medical Malpractice or Nursing Home Negligence? Or Both? Or Neither?

We represented an 82-year-old man who was transferred from a Chicagoland hospital for skilled nursing care at a long term nursing care facility. There were two doctors at the facility caring for our client, an attending doctor and an infectious disease doctor who was managing our client’s antibiotic regimen. While at the hospital, our client had been diagnosed as suffering from methicillin susceptible staph aureus (MSSA). Some staph infections can be methicillin-resistant staph (MRSA). MSSA infections are usually treatable with antibiotics.

Our client had an open ulcer on his foot and had an empyema (collection of pus in the space between the lung and the inner surface of the chest wall) while at the hospital. An infectious disease doctor was consulted, and he ultimately ordered that our client be placed on a twenty-eight day regimen of intravenous Ancef (an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections). The last ten days of this regimen took place at the nursing home, after which time the infectious disease doctor changed to oral Keflex.

Upon admission to the nursing facility, the infectious disease doctor ordered regular blood tests, including C-reactive protein tests. These tests were to be reviewed by the attending physician and forwarded to the infectious disease physician for his review. Given the antibiotic regimen that our client was on, reasonably well-qualified providers would expect to see the C-reactive protein levels in our client decrease. In his case, he was admitted with elevated C-reactive protein levels, and this remained the case; indeed, at one point, the levels even elevated. Considering these test results, it was a deviation from accepted standards of care to remove our client from intravenous antibiotics. Rather, the intravenous antibiotics should have been continued, and diagnostic studies such as a white cell scan should have been performed to look for early signs of metastatic infection.

Both the attending doctor and the infectious disease doctor failed to recognize or appreciate the elevated C-reactive protein levels, and therefore failed to follow up with appropriate investigation and treatment. If in fact, either or both doctors appreciated the significance of the blood tests, their treatment of our client was a deviation, as discussed above. In either event, the failure to timely and adequately treat our client’s bacteremia caused osteomyelitis (swelling in the bone) and discitis (an infection of the intervertebral disc space) in our client’s spine resulting in surgeries and disability.

For all the reasons above, this case turned out to be both a medical malpractice case against the attending doctor and the infectious disease doctor, as well as a nursing home negligence case against the nursing facility our client was sent to for skilled care. Our client was at said facility for five weeks where he received medical, nursing, and other healthcare from doctors, nurses and other agents of the facility. Our client was completely dependent upon staff at the facility for his well-being. During his stay at the facility, he developed an infection and bacteremia that spread to his spine.

Many law firms would have seen this fact scenario as either a medical malpractice case or a nursing home negligence case. Most lawyers who handle medical malpractice cases probably would have declined representation because of our client’s advanced age and health condition. Many firms who handle nursing home negligence cases would have passed on this case because of its complexities. Other nursing home negligence firms may have taken a shot at filing a case against the nursing care facility by itself, but would probably have been unsuccessful for not having the responsible doctors as part of the lawsuit. In our case, we alleged medical malpractice against the above-mentioned physicians. We also alleged that the nursing facility violated the Nursing Home Care Act. We were successful and we were able to bring justice to our client and his loving wife of more than fifty years.

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