In the same way that any landowner can be held culpable for a fall on their property, so too can nursing homes — except in the case of nursing homes, there is a duty of care toward residents to make sure life-threatening injuries like falls don’t happen.
Unfortunately, according to CDC statistics, they occur on a far too frequent basis. A typical 100-bed facility reports 100 to 200 falls per year, and many more go unreported. Of these falls, 10 to 20 percent lead to serious injury — overall, nursing home falls are responsible for 1,800 deaths per year.
Falls happen to nursing home patients at twice the rate of older adults who live independently. Negligence is not the only ingredient in this increased risk, but nursing homes have a duty to stop all preventable falls to their residents, regardless of what causes them.
Signs of Increased Falling Risk
Many nursing home residents have conditions which put them at increased risk of falling. Falling can be a sign of other health problems, as well as frailness — 35 percent of fall injuries occur among residents who lack the ability to walk.
Conditions which may lead to increased falling risk include:
- Lower body injuries
- Muscle weakness
- Gait problems
Nursing Home Negligence Which Contributes to Falls
According to the CDC, 16–27 percent of nursing home falls are due to environmental hazards such as wet floors, poor lighting, incorrect bed height and improperly fitted or maintained wheelchairs.
However, it isn’t just environmental hazards that contribute to falls in nursing homes. Negligence contributing to falls may comprise:
- Failure to monitor residents
- Failure to supervise at-risk residents walking in the facility
- Failure to use proper safeguards
- Improper assessment of fall risk
- Damaged or defective walking aids
- Bed rail malfunction
- Undertrained staff
- Improper transfer methods and positioning of residents with limited mobility
- Medication errors or change in medication — drugs which affect the central nervous system like sedatives and anxiolytics are of particular concern, and significantly increase the risk of falls for up to three days after any change
How Do Good Nursing Homes Prevent Falls?
A well-run nursing facility will have instituted an anti-fall protocol, which is tied into periodic assessments of fall risk and covers the following:
- Staff training and education: All staff should be aware of high-risk residents, signs of increased falling risk and prevention strategies.
- Adequate staffing: Key to fall prevention is adequate monitoring, which is hard to accomplish when a facility is understaffed.
- Fall-proofing the facility: Changes within the nursing home can make it easier for residents to get around safely. Such changes include the generous installation of grab bars, raised toilet seats, lowered beds and handrails in the hallways.
- Using protective devices: Protective devices such as hip pads may help to prevent fractures if a fall occurs.
- Bed alarms: Bed alarms can alert staff when a high-risk resident gets out of bed or moves their bed rails.
- Exercise programs: These help to improve residents’ strength and mobility.
- Working with residents on anti-falling strategies: Residents without cognitive impairments may benefit from help in avoiding scenarios where falls are more likely.
- Bathroom checks: The more frequently staff check in with high-risk residents, the less likely they will be to attempt to use the bathroom on their own.
The Consequences of Falling
Falls can result in:
- Functional decline
- Reduced quality of life
But that’s not all. The fear of falling can also harm nursing home residents, causing:
- Further loss of function
- Feelings of helplessness
- Social isolation
When to Consult with an Experienced Nursing Home Malpractice Attorney
Many nursing home falls are avoidable. When a fall is due to a failure of equipment, property upkeep or human error, the one who suffers an injury from a fall should not be the only one who bears its brunt.
The best course of action if you feel that nursing home negligence has caused harm to you or a loved one is to consult with skilled attorneys like those at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt as soon as possible. With 30 years of experience in medical malpractice, McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt is well suited to evaluate the situation and help determine if the injury suffered involved acts of negligence.