Preventable Falls At A Nursing Home


Nursing home lawyers know that preventable falls at nursing home facilities can result in serious injuries. This month, a 141-page report by the Department of Health outlined multiple deficiencies in care at a nursing home that resulted in the untimely death of  H.R. McMaster, the father of former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Jr.

This report outlined the series of events, including four falls within a 5 day period, which resulted in his death.  The Department of Health investigation showed that these series of falls lacked investigation, follow-up care, and resident-specific interventions to prevent future occurrences.

Unfortunately, preventable resident falls resulting in serious injury or death are an all too common occurrence in nursing homes.  In fact, between 50-75% of nursing home residents fall each year. Residents residing in nursing homes frequently have more significant functional and medical needs than community-dwelling seniors, making the impact of a fall even more serious.  About 10-20% of nursing home falls each year result in serious injury, with about 1,800 of these falls resulting in death.

While nursing home residents are at a higher risk of falls due to their medical needs, many of these falls can and should be prevented.  If your loved one has fallen in a nursing home, some things to consider are:

1)    Was the nurse notification system within reach?   If the system was activated, how long did the resident wait for response?  Many nursing home falls occur when the resident’s notification system is not within arm’s reach of the resident, or when the facility staff to not respond to that notification within an appropriate timeframe.

2)    Are medications contributing to their fall risk?  Certain medications in the elderly, such as narcotic pain medication, anxiolytics, or sedatives can significantly increase their risk of falls.  It’s required that these medications be reviewed regularly by their attending physician and pharmacist, and that residents receiving high risk medication are informed of the potential side effects.  Improper monitoring of these medications can put residents of undue risk of falling.

3)    Are environmental hazards present that have caused or contributed to a fall?  Nursing homes frequently reuse items such as wheelchairs, walkers, bedside commodes, and shower chairs from one patient to the next.  The failure of a facility to properly inspect and maintain the safety of these devices can result in resident falls with serious injury.

4)    Are there unmet resident needs that resulted in the fall?  Unfortunately, many residents in nursing homes fall because their needs have not been properly met.  This can be particularly true for residents with cognitive deficits who may have difficulty expressing their needs.  Facility staff are required to anticipate and meet resident needs such as:

  •   Toileting needs
  •   Ambulation or movement needs
  •   Pain or discomfort
  •   Socialization or emotional support needs

Disclaimer:  This article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice.