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Choking Death is a Major Risk for Nursing Home Residents

Wagner Reese

Deaths related to choking in elder care facilities are occurring with unsettling frequency. Many elderly and disabled residents in nursing home facilities suffer from various impairments that can affect their ability to chew and swallow. In fact, death rates for choking incidents are almost seven times higher among people 65 years of age and over than other age groups. Many of these deaths may be preventable with appropriate care and precautions by nursing home facilities.

What may contribute to nursing home choking-related fatalities? Chronic understaffing at nursing homes can result in an inability to adequately supervise residents at risk of choking. Improperly trained staff may be unqualified to care for those with disabilities or illnesses that make swallowing difficult. This can turn deadly when staff are not trained how to respond to choking incidents or how to administer proper choking treatment. If residents are not frequently evaluated for signs of dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, warning signs can be missed. Failure to implement appropriate dietary restrictions, improperly maintained or poorly fitting dentures, and failure to monitor residents while eating can also contribute to serious injury or death for nursing home residents.

How Can Choking Deaths in Nursing Homes Be Reduced?

  • Evaluation of Residents: All residents need to be properly and periodically assessed for chewing and swallowing deficits. In fact, the Code of Federal Regulations for Long Term Care Facilities requires that facilities develop and implement baseline care plans for each resident within 48 hours of admission that must include dietary and physician orders. In addition, comprehensive care plans must be developed within 7 days after completion of a comprehensive assessment and should be prepared by an interdisciplinary team that includes a member of food and nutrition services staff. 42 C.F.R. § 483.21
  • Therapy Follow-Through: Modified diets, like thickened liquids or soft food diets, should be ordered and delivered to residents with dietary restrictions.
  • Supervision during Meals: Adequate staffing is crucial in preventing choking deaths. Under 42 C.F.R. § 483.60, facilities are required to have sufficient staff with the appropriate skills sets to “carry out the functions of the food and nutrition service, taking into consideration resident assessments, individual plans of care and the number, acuity and diagnoses of the facility's resident population.”
  • Appropriate Equipment: Nursing homes should have easily accessible emergency airway clearance equipment on-site. Additionally, a facility must provide special eating equipment and utensils for residents who need them, as well as appropriate assistance to ensure that the resident can utilize the devices when eating both meals and snacks. 42 C.F.R. § 483.60.
  • Properly Trained Staff: All staff members need to receive current training on basic life support and rescue skills, including the Heimlich maneuver. Feeding assistants must complete a State-approved training course before feeding residents. In an emergency, feeding assistants are required to call a supervising nurse for help. 42 C.F.R. § 483.60.

Nursing Home Lawsuits Attorneys

At Wagner Reese, our experienced team of lawyers is committed to using our skills and resources to help clients throughout the state of Indiana pursue legal action against negligent nursing home facilities. If you or a loved one have been seriously injured at a nursing home, contact our law firm to discuss all of your options under the law.

Call (888) 204-8440 to request a free consultation with our nursing home injury lawyers. We are here to serve you.

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