Personal Injury & Nursing Home Abuse
Pittsburgh and Western PA

MRSA in Pennsylvania Nursing Homes

If your loved one developed a preventable infection, we can help

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a dangerous type of bacteria that spreads in nursing homes and other healthcare settings. When MRSA gets inside a nursing home resident’s body, it can cause a serious infection that leads to deadly complications like pneumonia and sepsis.

Infection control is one of a nursing home’s most important responsibilities, but in some facilities, it unfortunately falls by the wayside. The consequences can be catastrophic. That’s why it’s so important for residents’ families to understand their rights and hold nursing homes accountable under Pennsylvania law.

Why does MRSA spread in nursing homes?

While MRSA can be found anywhere, it is particularly common in healthcare settings such as hospitals and nursing homes. (Often, this is known as healthcare associated MRSA, or HA-MRSA.) Up to one in 30 people carries MRSA on their skin, but as long as it remains on the skin, it poses no threat. However, if MRSA gets inside the body, it can cause serious illness.

Usually, MRSA is spread by person-to-person contact, often by healthcare workers who don’t wash their hands after touching an infected patient. It can also survive on various surfaces for long periods of time, so soiled linens, shared towels, utensils, medical equipment, and other items can spread the disease as well.

Nursing home residents are particularly vulnerable to MRSA for a few reasons. First, in addition to having weaker immune systems generally, they often need medical devices that are inserted into the body like catheters and feeding tubes, and they are more vulnerable to wounds such as bedsores. Furthermore, residents often come to the nursing home directly from hospitals and other healthcare settings, and they are often in and out of the hospital during their stay, increasing the risk that they might bring MRSA into the facility.

Symptoms of MRSA

The symptoms of MRSA are similar to any other staph infection, including but not limited to:

  • Redness and swelling on the skin.
  • Skin abscesses.
  • Pus draining from the infected area.
  • Warmth around the infection site.
  • Fever – note that elderly people often have a lower baseline body temperature, so a temperature that would appear normal in a younger adult could actually be a fever in a nursing home resident.

Complications caused by MRSA

Again, while MRSA is not dangerous as long as it stays outside the body, it can become incredibly dangerous if it gets inside the body. Serious complications caused by MRSA include:

  • Skin infections: if MRSA enters an open wound, such as a cut or bedsore, it can cause an infection called cellulitis. Skin infections are usually treatable but can cause severe complications if they spread to the lymph node or bloodstream.
  • Pneumonia: an infection in the lungs that causes inflammation, fluid, and difficulty breathing. Pneumonia can be incredibly dangerous for nursing home residents, with death occurring in an estimated 13 to 41 percent of cases.
  • Endocarditis: inflammation of the inner lining of the heart that disrupts the flow of blood through the body. Endocarditis can cause permanent damage to the heart valves and lead to life-threatening complications like heart failure or stroke.
  • Bloodstream infections: MRSA infections that spread to the bloodstream can rapidly spread throughout the body. A bloodstream infection is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.
  • Sepsis: a serious complication of an infection that causes the immune system to turn on the body’s own organs. If not treated, sepsis can lead to septic shock, a severe and often fatal drop in blood pressure.

How is MRSA treated?

MRSA is particularly dangerous because it is resistant to many types of antibiotics, including methicillin, nafcillin, cephalosporin, and penicillin. Fortunately, most MRSA infections can be treated with special antibiotics, although some strains have developed resistance to those stronger drugs as well.

Nursing home residents who develop MRSA usually have to be hospitalized and receive antibiotics via an intravenous (IV) needle. In addition to antibiotics, some cases of MRSA may require surgery to drain abscesses or to repair damage to internal organs caused by the infection.

The role of nursing home negligence in MRSA infections

Since MRSA can be quite difficult to treat once the infection sets in, preventing infections from spreading within nursing homes is critical. First, nursing homes need to properly train and supervise staff to consistently wash their hands after touching patients or handling their personal items. They also need to keep the overall environment clean, including sanitizing shared surfaces, and regularly change residents’ clothes, bedsheets, and towels to prevent MRSA from growing.

Nursing homes need to be especially cautious when residents travel to and from the hospital or other healthcare settings where they may be particularly likely to pick up MRSA or another hospital-acquired infection. If a resident is known to be infected or colonized with MRSA, the facility needs to follow enhanced protective measures for the safety of not just the infected resident but all other residents as well.

When using medical devices such as catheters and needles, nursing home staff need to follow proper sanitization procedures to reduce the risk that bacteria such as MRSA will be introduced into a resident’s body. Nursing home staff should also reduce the risk of infection by regularly turning residents in bed and conducting regular body audits to check for pressure ulcers (bedsores).

When MRSA infections do occur in a nursing home, it’s the facility’s responsibility to immediately and appropriately respond. That means regularly checking residents for signs of an infection, such as fever, and referring them to appropriate medical specialists for further diagnosis and treatment. Prompt intervention is critical to reduce the risk of severe complications like sepsis and septic shock.

If your loved one developed MRSA in a nursing home, you have legal options

Unfortunately, too many nursing home residents develop MRSA infections every year, and many of those infections are fatal. Families are left angry, confused, and searching for answers. That’s where an experienced nursing home negligence attorney can make a significant difference. Our law firm knows how to get to the bottom of what happened to your loved one, which may involve reviewing medical records, interviewing witnesses, and bringing in experts if necessary.

Our law firm has extensive experience and a winning track record in cases involving nursing home neglect. Our founder, Hal Waldman, is not only an experienced attorney, but has also been a nursing home owner, giving him a deep understanding of the proper protocols and best practices that facilities need to follow to protect their residents. He has even served as an expert witness in nursing home litigation.

If your loved one developed a MRSA infection in a nursing home or other long-term care facility, our attorneys would be honored to listen to your story and explain your legal rights and options. There’s no cost and no obligation to hire us, just answers. Give us a call or contact us online to schedule your free, confidential consultation.

Click here to download a printable PDF version of this article, “MRSA in Pennsylvania Nursing Homes.”

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