HEC Forum 14 (3):224-234 (2002)

Nursing homes' ethics committees play a role in designing policies to assure ethical care. The administrative structure of nursing homes is not as large as that of hospitals. Nursing home staff and administration can respond to medical accidents in a way that treats family unethically and does serious harm to the facility. This paper describes incidents in which nursing homes attempted to conceal accidental deaths. It describes how such incidents are discovered, and the consequences of such efforts, and suggests ways to prevent such incidents.This paper presents a retrospective review of a convenience sample of eight cases in which it was discovered that a nursing home attempted to conceal an accidental death. The effort to conceal an accidental death requires a coordinated effort to: [1] limit dissemination of information about the accident by staff and records, [2] decrease suspicion about the death, and [3] decrease the likelihood that an inquiry, if launched, will succeed. This effort begins as a reflexive, emotional and defensive response to the accident and consolidates as an institutional strategy to conceal both the accident and the concealment. The effort is coordinated by administrators who coerce cooperation from front line staff, alter medical records, and fail to follow reporting procedures. The attempt to conceal a lethal accident adversely affects the facility and the healthcare system. Ethics committees should work with professional organizations and administrator to assure proper management and disclosure of harmful accidents
Keywords Philosophy   Ethics   Philosophy of Medicine   Theory of Medicine/Bioethics   Medical Law
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Reprint years 2004
DOI 10.1023/A:1020572929788
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