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Fire Ants Are A Serious Danger For Nursing Home Patients

Copy-of-Add-a-little-bit-o-text-3-300x300Assisted living facility? Decisions concerning elderly relatives can be some of the most difficult for families. When the time comes to consider driving, safety or living independently, it is traumatic. We want to honor our relatives and make the best decisions. Our elders are a true treasure. I’m reminded of the verse that says “Gray hair is a crown of glory.” (Proverbs 16:31).

How should we treat our elders? In a recent talk, Pope Francis said, “where there is no honor to the elderly, there is no future for the young.” That is very true.

Earlier this week I read of a recent incident where fire ants attacked an elderly Air Force veteran in a VA assisted living facility. A single fire ant attack in an assisted living facility, is unacceptable. Yet, here, we are not talking about a single attack but rather repeated attacks over the course of two days. Is this an isolated event in a single facility? No. Fire ants present a horrible danger that too many facilities ignore.

Recently, three employees of a northern Alabama nursing home were criminally convicted of elder abuse following a vicious fire ant attack on an elderly patient. In that case, an elderly patient was found covered with ant bites one morning. The three employees assigned to the patient documented in the medical chart that they had checked on the elderly patient throughout the night. Yet, surveillance video showed this to be a lie. They had NOT checked their patient at all.

Over the last decade, numerous elderly patients have been attacked by fire ants in nursing homes. Many of these injuries occurred across the southeastern United States, including Alabama.

The recent VA facility case is terribly similar to a case we worked at my prior law firm. Our prior case involved a fire ant attack at a facility in Huntsville. How were they similar? In both cases, the facility discovered the attack after the first night, cleaned the area, and attempted to hide the truth from family members. Both cases involved reckless conduct that endangered a patient plus an attempted cover-up. In both situations, a family member saw the red bite marks and started asking questions that led to the truth.

In many situations, both the nursing home and its pest control provider share liability. They did in our case. How can they both be negligent? In many situations, the nursing facility fails to train or supervise its staff to inspect and manage the facility. Many times, the facility fails to take even basic steps. At the same time, the pest control company fails to inspect and treat properly the facility. Many times, the pest control company spends little or no time doing its job.

An entomologist in Texas who advises pest control companies recently wrote an article discussing the danger of fire ants in nursing facilities. In his article, he provided ten simple steps for nursing facilities. His article discusses each step in detail. I’ll summarize them here:

  • Insure the facility has a policy / plan regarding indoor ants. The plan should include clear staff instructions.
  • Insure the staff is constantly updated on areas / wings / rooms which house high-risk patients.
  • Require patients to be IMMEDIATELY moved from any room with signs of ants to an ant-free location.
  • Clean infested rooms with a soap solution, disinfect and seal / treat any potential entry points. You must clean with soap to remove any ant trail pheromone that might lure ants back into the room.
  • Conduct periodic staff training. Caregivers need to know how to identify fire ant issues.
  • Inspect outdoor areas regularly. Plus, train staff to recognize and report potential trouble areas.
  • Know who is responsible for grounds treatment. According to the author, some facilities use different contractors indoors and outdoors which allows for confusion and blame-shifting.
  • Do NOT rely solely on mound treatments for fire ant control. The author discusses the use of ant baits, granular insecticides and the need to keep fire ant areas as far from the building as possible.
  • Do NOT allow unlicensed applicators to apply insecticides. While this seems like a clear given to me, the author felt the need to state it clearly.
  • Document everything. This is needed to track treatments, inspections and concern areas. As the author notes, it’s also helpful for later review by a lawyer!

The Texas author concludes by stating that a “conscientious company can succeed at this business.” I agree. Fire ant infestations and attacks are easily preventable with basic care. Our elderly family members and neighbors deserve conscientious care from facilities dedicated to their well-being.

Nursing homes, hospitals and daycare facilities help our most vulnerable family members and friends. These places of trust need to recognize the risk and take necessary steps to assure safety. Fire ant attacks can, and should, be prevented.

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At the Blackwell Law Firm, we represent personal injury victims across Alabama. We believe preparation and hard work are the essential ingredients to helping our clients and their families.