Can a health care directive lead to accusations of neglect?

Imagine that you have a loved one who is currently living in an elderly care facility. Unable to care for themselves, they rely on the help from staff members to provide a certain standard of care. The nursing home staff then in turn relies on the health care directives provided to them by the patient or their health care proxy. This is done so as to avoid breaking any state laws. But what happens if these health care directives aren’t known or are not followed? Could it lead to accusations of patient neglect?

It’s possible for a family to think that a health care facility has failed to provide care for their loved one, especially when it comes to do not resuscitate orders. If the patient establishes a DNR without informing their loved ones, a death at the facility might be considered suspect and the family could accuse the facility of abuse or neglect as a result.

On the flipside, doctors may ignore a DNR and other health care directives, which can be problematic as well. Consider for a moment a doctor providing CPR to a DNR patient. It’s later discovered that chest compressions caused the patient’s ribs to crack. The patient later dies. Was the doctor negligent to not follow the DNR or guilty of abuse for cracking the patient’s ribs? It’s a plausible scenario that is similar to cases heard across the country, including some here in South Carolina.

While it’s important to consider whether a health care directive can turn into an accusation of abuse or neglect, it’s also important to remember that many cases of neglect and abuse are a direct result of someone else’s negligence. And while being able to recognize this is one thing, knowing what to do after an incident occurs is another thing. It’s information we hope our readers have access to so that they know what to do if something like this happens to them.

Source:, “When You Don’t Like the Answer, Change the Question,” Dr. Lachlan Forrow, Feb. 10, 2014

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