Nursing Home Resident Dies After Falling Out of Bed, Breaking Hip, Aspiration Pneumonia

A 74-year-old woman was allowed to fall at a nursing home. The fall caused a broken hip, requiring surgery and affecting her ability to eat and drink effectively. She died of aspiration pneumonia a little over a month after the fall, which was related to the fall.

The woman was admitted to the nursing home on June 17 to be rehabilitated after a back injury. Because she was at risk of falling, her doctor had ordered bed-rail restraints, a lowered bed, an alarm system, and that she be closely attended to, according to a lawsuit filed by her surviving family.

The lawsuit states that the resident was left unattended on July 3 and without bed rails or a bed alarm. At 7 a.m. that day, she fell out of bed, fracturing her left hip.

Although her hip was X-rayed at the facility at 2:45 p.m., she wasn't transferred to an acute-care hospital until after 9 p.m., according to the complaint.

She had surgery for her fractured hip, but the operation affected her mental condition, and she was no longer able to eat or drink effectively, the suit said.

As a result, she contracted "aspiration pneumonia," a type of pneumonia that can develop in people who inhale liquid or bits of food.

The woman died of respiratory failure as a result of pneumonia, the complaint said.

Among the accusations against the nursing home are that its administrators failed to hire enough staff to keep her safe, that her doctor's orders were not followed, that she wasn't transferred to an acute-care hospital when she needed to be, and that her doctor was not notified as her condition declined before she died. For more about this lawsuit, read the story.

This case illustrates an all-too-familiar pattern of nursing home conduct. Patients are not protected from falls adequately, even when they are noted to be high fall risks. Equipment such as personal fall alarms can help monitor a patient’s activities, but does not eliminate the need for adequate supervision. Adequate supervision must be based on the individual patient’s needs and the hazards of the patient’s environment. A nursing home or assisted living facility has the responsibility to ensure the safest environment possible for its patient. Specifically, a nursing home or assisted living facility must provide an environment free from accidents and hazards over which the nursing home or assisted living facility has control and provide proper supervision and assistive devices to prevent avoidable accidents, including falls. Second, proper medical care often is not rendered immediately following a fall. It is terrible that this elderly woman had to suffer the obvious pain she must have had from her broken hip left untreated for hours. Nursing homes have an obligation to their residents to properly evaluate all injuries and obtain immediate medical treatment.

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Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.


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