Nursing Home Choking – Holding Nursing Homes Liable When They Are Negligent

Could eating dinner be a danger to the health of your loved one? Choking is a risk if your loved one has difficulty swallowing, a condition called dysphagia.

In fact, research has found that nearly 40 percent of nursing home residents have some difficulty swallowing.1 Even sleeping can result in choking trauma if the bed is poorly constructed. Bed-rail gaps can trap the resident’s head and prevent breathing.

As an Ohio nursing home neglect attorney, I and my firm represent clients and their families in cases of nursing home choking injuries or death in a nursing home that resulted from nursing home negligence.  In many cases, choking is the result of a nursing home failing to properly assess a resident, or in the failure to properly implement protocols (such as a liquid diet or the elimination of bed rail gaps) to prevent the resident from choking.

Please Call Me for a Free Consultation and to Learn How I Can Help

As a nursing home injury lawyer for more than 30 years, I have the experience and tenacity to find out the truth behind your loved one’s injuries or death.  I know well the actions that nursing homes often take in order to escape liability for their negligence and substandard care.  In seeking the truth, and on behalf of clients, I retain medical experts to determine the level of care that was needed based upon a resident’s conditions, and then determine whether the proper level of care was provided.

I represent clients on a contingency fee basis, which means that there is no fee for my services unless I am successful in obtaining compensation for you.  I would invite you to call me to learn how I can help you in seeking the truth, and in seeking to obtain a measure of justice for your loved one.

What Increases the Risk of Choking?  The Common Risk Factors

Many medical conditions can affect the muscles and nerves in the throat and cause difficulty swallowing, such as:2

  • Stroke or brain injury
  • Diseases that affect the nervous system such Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Tumors of the throat

Many medications can also affect the ability to swallow. Even nonmedical conditions, such as ill-fitting dentures, can interfere with swallowing.

Strangulation and Bed Rail Entrapment

The dangers of choking or strangulation are not limited just to the dining room. Strangulation can occur when a resident gets caught between the mattress and the bed rails: bed-rail entrapment. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been warning of this danger for years.3 This tragic problem occurs when the design of the bed, mattress, or rail causes a gap that can trap a resident’s head or neck. Often a facility sources each of these bed components from different manufacturers, which leads to an increased risk of deathly gaps in the bed.

Are Nursing Homes Responsible for Choking Deaths? The Duty of Nursing Homes

Nursing homes present themselves to the community as experts in dealing with elderly residents and the conditions that affect them. The best practice is prevention or identification of risk factors. Every nursing home has a duty to assess all new residents; part of that assessment includes ability to chew and swallow. Members of the caregiving team include nurses, a speech pathologist, a dietician, and, of course, the resident’s physician. All of these professionals should be aware of the risk factors for difficulty swallowing.

If the team does a proper interdisciplinary assessment, the results should lead to interventions set forth clearly in the resident’s care plan. Some common interventions include a pureed diet, thickened liquids, supervision or assistance with eating, minimal use of sedatives, and eating in a chair. When carefully administered, these precautions should prevent most incidents of choking.

While it is always possible that even a perfectly healthy person could die as a result of choking, when a choking death occurs in a nursing home, it often because:

  • The nursing home failed to timely provide a proper assessment of the resident’s needs. In addition to conducting an assessment of a resident when the resident first enters the home, residents should also subsequently be assessed on a periodic basis as they age.  Further, if a resident suffers a medical event (such as a stroke), they should be given a subsequent assessment to determine their current care needs and requirements.
  • The nursing home failed to properly adopt and adhere to a care plan. A care plan prohibiting solid foods is not effective if this plan is ignored and the resident, in fact, is given solid foods.  Similarly, bed rail gaps especially need to be eliminated when there is a risk of choking.

Let Us Investigate the Cause of Your Loved One’s Injuries or Death

Choking or strangulation of nursing home and assisted living residents should almost never occur. If you suspect that your loved one suffered unexplained injury or death, an investigation is needed. We have investigated and prosecuted many such cases of nursing home abuse and negligence.

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1. Humbert IA, Robbins J. Dysphagia in the elderly. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am 2008;19(4):853-866