In a recent nursing home negligence lawsuit filed in Minnesota, the family of an 88-year-old woman who died following an Easter Sunday meal three years ago alleges her death was preventable, and occurred because she was given the wrong food. The complaint points the finger at least partially at a computer malfunction.
Decedent, known widely by the nickname, “Toots,” suffered from dementia and was placed on a dysphasia diet. That meant it was imperative she receive only pureed food. She didn’t get it that day. It was her last meal.
She choked to death on the hard food she was served for the holiday – holiday ham, potatoes au gratin, green bean casserole, a bread roll and lemon pie. No part of this meal was pureed, and a nursing assistant actually helped resident eat the food. Halfway through the meal, resident coughed up a quarter-sized piece of potato. Staffers then realized she had been given the wrong food and switched out her tray for a pureed version. But by then, it was too late.
As an attorney for the family noted, “If you feed chunked food to a person with dysphasia, you might as well be feeding them rat poison.”
The facility has all of its residents’ diets clearly in identified in a computerized system to inform staffers of special dietary needs. But for some reason, the computer system does not work on holidays. The nursing home is reportedly aware of this shortcoming, and they do have a person identified as a “food auditor” on staff. However, that individual does not work on weekends.
When decedent, who had no teeth, consumed the food, she partially inhaled it. As a result, food particles were trapped in her lungs. She had a history of doing this, which was why she was on the special diet in the first place. She died days later of sepsis, caused by the infection in her lungs.
The state health department launched an investigation into the woman’s death, and concluded nursing home neglect did occur. Further, this was something the facility could have and should have anticipated. That’s because the facility had received “dozens” of citations over the last several years for this very some problem.
In fact, on that same Easter Sunday when this woman passed away, 10 other patients were also incorrectly served hard food.
It’s alleged the administrators were well aware of these problems and failed to take action to correct them.
Health department’s review found that even after the resident coughed up a chunk of potato, the facility did notify both a nurse practitioner and the woman’s family. Her breathing became difficult and her oxygen saturation levels were low. As her oxygen levels drop and her fever rose, she was transferred by ambulance to a local hospital.
After being diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia resulting in sepsis, doctors indicated her treatment plan should involve simply making her comfortable. She died of acute respiratory failure the day after the holiday.
The lawsuit filed by the family alleges negligence, wrongful death and violations of decedent’s civil rights.
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Ramsey County sued by nursing home patient’s family, Feb. 1, 2016, By Tad Vezner, Pioneer Press
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