NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — While the high rates of medical errors that occur in hospitals is well known, a recent investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found an alarming number of adverse events in skilled nursing facilities – higher than in hospitals – due to treatment errors and poor care.

In a single month, an estimated 1,500-plus Medicare patients who had been admitted to a skilled nursing facility for treatment after hospitalization died as a result of medical errors and poor care, nearly 22,000 patients experienced at least one adverse event, and more than 11,000 patients suffered a temporary harm event, one that could be corrected, according to a study by HHS. Problems included hypoglycemia, medication-induced delirium and pressure ulcers.

Interestingly, the investigation found problems not typically associated with nursing home care – gastrointestinal bleeding due to blood thinner drug overdose, for example.

More than half of the patients who experienced an adverse event had to return to the hospital, which cost an estimated $208 million, a projected $2.8 billion tab for fiscal year 2011. Nearly 60% of these events were thought to be preventable, according to doctors who reviewed the incidents.

The preventable problems suffered were caused mostly by substandard treatment, inadequate monitoring of patients, and failure to provide necessary care or a delay in providing it.

Previous studies by the Office of Inspector General at HHS found that 27% of hospitalized Medicare beneficiaries had adverse events or were harmed, half of which were thought to be preventable, costing an estimated $4.4 billion annually.

Peter Anderson, a nursing home abuse attorney at Ashcraft & Gerel, has a skilled nursing home case "in which a quadriplegic client ... was not properly cared for and developed a sacral wound ... so deep that you can see his spine through it," he says. While that facility had been under investigation, the government study shows that cases of poor care are rampant at facilities not under scrutiny.

"The HHS report confirms what plaintiffs' attorneys have known for a long time -- there must be more enforcement of the federal regulations pertaining to skilled nursing facilities," Anderson says.

Cost-cutting and greed do not contribute to sound health care practices.

"Nursing home administrators try to squeeze out every last dollar from facilities by short staffing, which allows them to make huge profits billing Medicare at the taxpayers' expense," he says.

But even if there wasn't a nursing shortage, it appears there still would be problems. Nurses working in these facilities typically are not trained in gerontology, according to Timothy Legg, associate dean of Kaplan University School of Nursing and a board-certified gerontological nurse practitioner.

"This is a huge public health issue because all of us will eventually get old and a large percentage of us will require skilled nursing care," Anderson says.