A nursing home choking death has resulted in an $875,000 settlement recently, following allegations the nursing home failed to comply with his doctor’s diet orders, feeding the resident solid food as opposed to the mechanical soft-only food he was supposed to have.
As noted by researchers with The University of Michigan’s School of Medicine, mechanical soft diets are recommended for people who have trouble with chewing. It generally means food is soft or cooked until tender and then blended in a blender or food processor or else is pureed. The goal is to provide a balanced diet with adequate amounts of protein and calories for people who have problems with chewing. Individuals on mechanical soft diets are often instructed to eat six smaller meals a day, rather than three larger ones.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that over a recent three-year period, some 2,200 people over 65 died in choking incidents in the U.S. Individuals with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and pneumonitis were more vulnerable, and choking deaths appear to be on the rise in nursing homes and health care settings.
Certain quality assurance factors that come into play include:
- Whether the facility had adequate staffing levels;
- Whether a facility’s policy and procedures on diet and meal consistency were clearly communicated with dietary and nursing staffers;
- Whether staff is trained on choking risks among residents in nursing homes;
- Whether the nursing home had a plan for springing to action in choking emergencies.
One of the first things that has to be done when a patient is admitted (or re-admitted) to a nursing home is to conduct a nursing assessment. One of the points that has to be addressed is an oral assessment, and that includes the resident’s ability to consume food. The nurse who conducts this assessment will verify it with the doctor. If the patient has cognitive deficits, dementia or general trouble swallowing, these could be red flags.
Failure to properly conduct this assessment or failure to follow it could likely be construed as negligent, because it is the failure to use reasonable care. Similarly, if the claim is predicated on the legal theory of medical malpractice, one will need to show the nursing staff, physician or facility deviated from the applicable standard of care, which is what a medical professional of the same training, in the same region would reasonably do in the same or similar circumstances.
In the recent case resulting in settlement, a certified nursing assistant assigned to resident set up the food tray on the table, positioned him to start eating and then walked away, leaving the resident unsupervised. His meals were supposed to be supervised. Soon thereafter, the resident began to choke. The nursing assistant dashed over upon realizing what happened and tried unsuccessfully to perform the Heimlich maneuver. The assistant’s summon for help via the call light went unanswered.
Decedent’s family alleged there were a host of systemic issues that led to this outcome, including a lack of staffing and a failure to properly train staff on choking response. In speaking via their nursing home negligence attorney, the family said that while no amount of money would bring back decedent, their hope was that it would incentivize the nursing home to make necessary changes to prevent similar future incidents.
A representative for the nursing home, which chose to settle rather than take the case to trial, had no comment.
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$875K for family of man who choked to death at nursing home, March 20, 2017, By Tom Schuba, Chicago Sun Times
More Blog Entries:
Nursing Home Death of Alzheimer’s Patient Spurs Negligence Lawsuit, July 30, 2017, Orlando Nursing Home Negligence Lawyer Blog