Hospice care is important for people who need end of life care as well as their families. When a person is diagnosed with a life-ending illness or condition, that gives them months to live, the shift focuses from curing them to making them comfortable for the last stage before passing.

Hospice care is team-oriented, an effort to provide medical care, pain management, spiritual support, and therapy to a person at the end of their life. However, there are times when hospice care crosses into malpractice.

Who is involved in hospice care?

There are numerous groups of people involved in a person’s hospice care. This can include a person’s:

  • Personal physician
  • Hospice physicians
  • Home health aides
  • Nurses
  • Social workers
  • Clergy or spiritual counselors
  • Physical, occupational, or speech therapists
  • Volunteers
  • A person’s family

How is hospice malpractice committed?

Hospice care is fairly unregulated as an industry. Most people who use hospice care do so through Medicare, which does not have many methods in place for inspecting or disciplining those who are negligent in the hospice industry. Medicare does not impose fines or sanctions on anyone involved in hospice care. While they can remove a hospice provider from their system, they rarely do so. Hospice companies have few reporting requirements when it comes to patient care violations.

Hospice malpractice happens when a patient on hospice receives sub-standard care. This can include a variety of things:

  • Failing to visit or check on the patient as scheduled
  • Failing to properly assess and manage a patient’s pain
  • Allowing a patient to live in unsanitary conditions
  • Not meeting a patient’s basic needs of water, food, shelter, and medical care
  • Not changing a patients bandages or checking wounds
  • Failing to provide proper medications or overmedicating a patient
  • Failing to call emergency services when necessary
  • And more

How to file a lawsuit in hospice malpractice cases

While Medicare may not be able to step in and force compliance, hospice providers can still face civil lawsuits from victims and their families. Please understand that time is a factor. Due to the nature of hospice care, there are some challenges to these lawsuits, including the fact that the patient may die before a lawsuit is ready for trial. There are also instances where the patient may not be able to give statements or testify on their own behalf because of Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Another complication could arise from the defendant’s testimony. They could claim that the patient was already suffering and that they bear no responsibility for the suffering that happened due to the perceived negligence.

Some of the more common ways to file a lawsuit against hospice workers are to file a personal injury claim, breach of contract claim, wrongful death claim, and claims under the elder abuse and dependent adult civil protection act. Through these suits, you can recover compensation for damages from medical bills, pain and suffering, loss of life quality, funeral/burial cost, as well as attorney fees. These lawsuits can become very complicated. Victims and their families should speak to qualified and experienced medical malpractice attorneys who have handled hospice malpractice cases in the past.

Can a family file a lawsuit for wrongful death?

If a person dies due to the careless or negligent actions of hospice providers, the family could file a lawsuit for wrongful death. This will still come with several complications. Again, due to the nature of hospice care, the patient was already at the end stages of life. While this in no way excuses any mistreatment, it can make it harder to convince a jury that the person died due to the negligent actions of the hospice providers. Always seek help from an attorney when making decisions about these cases.