Patient Suffers Fall Injuries, Nearly Dies, Nursing Home Settles

A 76-year-old female was admitted to a nursing home on February 9, 2010. At the time of admission and at all times thereafter, the patient was a high fall risk based on a medical history that included dementia, progressive supranuclear palsy, osteoporosis, medication use, dizziness, postural instability, unsteady gait, poor safety awareness, generalized motor weakness, lack of coordination, poor balance, a history of multiple falls, and dependence on staff for assistance with activities of daily living, including mobility, transfers, and locomotion. The nursing home staff prepared fall risk assessments that confirmed it was aware of the patient’s high fall risk.

On July 7, 2012, a CNA transferred the patient to her wheelchair and was taking her to the bathroom. The patient was permitted by nursing home staff to fall out of the wheelchair and strike her nose on a tray table. Although the patient sustained a laceration across the bridge of her nose, a bloody nose, and a red raised area on her forehead, nursing home staff placed her back in bed and told her daughter that it was "just a scratch" and that she would be fine.

The next day, the patient's daughter observed the patient to have bruising about the face, swelling around her eyes and mouth, and difficulty breathing. At the request of her daughter, the patient was sent by ambulance to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a depressed nasal bone fracture and a displaced fracture of the anterior tip of the nasal septum. The patient was not a surgical candidate, and she was returned to the nursing home.

On July 9, 2012, nursing home staff observed the patient was having labored breathing, and her lips were dark purple and very swollen. Staff called the patient’s daughter to inform her that the patient’s oxygen saturation rates were 52% and to ask whether the patient should be sent to the ER. The patient's daughter answered affirmatively, and the patient was sent by ambulance to the hospital, where she was intubated “to prevent likely death.” The patient was diagnosed with acute respiratory failure and aspiration pneumonia, most likely due to aspiration of blood from the nasal fractures.

The family contacted us to pursue claims against the nursing home for failing to provide proper fall prevention and to properly treat the patient after the fall. We were able to settle the case for a substantial award, which is confidential at the nursing home’s request.