Many elderly and disabled residents in nursing home facilities suffer from various impairments that can affect their ability to chew and swallow. Unfortunately, deaths related to choking among disabled people in elder care facilities are occurring with unsettling frequency. In fact, several lawsuits have been recently filed against nursing home facilities due to alleged negligence that resulted in choking deaths.
One jury in Wisconsin awarded $1.5 million to the mother of a developmentally disabled woman who choked to death in a nursing facility. The disabled woman was in her fifties and suffered from various developmental disabilities and swallowing deficits. She was also blind.
According to the lawsuit, the nursing home facility failed to provide the disabled woman with pureed food that a dietician had ordered. The staff at the facility also failed to adequately supervise her when she was eating her meals. Records from the court reveal that reduced staffing at the facility may have contributed to the woman’s death.
Last year, a Michigan jury awarded a family $2.5 million after a 56-year-old resident allegedly choked on a large meatball at a nursing home. The lawsuit argued the facility failed to provide a diet of the appropriate texture and did not have staff that was properly trained to safely and quickly perform the Heimlich maneuver. According to details of the lawsuit, one staffer wrongfully used a hand-held respiratory resuscitation bag, which could have forced the food lodged in the resident’s airway farther down into the respiratory tract.
How Can Choking Deaths in Nursing Homes Be Reduced?
- Evaluation: All residents need to be properly and periodically assessed for 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, should be ordered and delivered to residents.
- Supervision: Adequate staffing is crucial in preventing choking deaths. Residents need to be supervised when they eat, which means extra staffing is necessary. 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 extensive 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, you should get in touch with our law firm to discuss all of your options under the law.