Kansas City Nursing Home Fall Injury Lawyer
As a Kansas City nursing home lawyer, I know that no one ever wants to mention the words “nursing home” to an elderly family member or loved one. But many Americans have made the difficult choice to put their loved ones into a nursing care facility. Some are due to a serious medical condition, and others are there because they can no longer be cared for at home. The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) notes that the fastest growing group of adults in the US is over the age of 85, reaching 8.9 million in 2030 with many going to a nursing home.
Why Falls Are Common in Kansas City Nursing Homes
Elderly residents are particularly vulnerable to falls. While falls are always possible for a elderly person, they are especially at risk in a nursing home. Nursing home residents are usually older and in poor health in contrast to individuals who are “aging in place” at home. An elderly person already has a higher degree of frailty, so falls can lead to serious injuries and medical consequences.
Once a patient experiences their first fall, they are at risk of falling again. Many patients don’t tell their loved ones about a fall, especially if they’re not hurt. Some falls don’t result in an injury, but it causes a conundrum: the fear of another fall causes older individuals cut back on physical activities. This results in an individual who is less active, weaker, and prone to subsequent falls, along with social isolation, depression, anxiety, and feelings of helplessness.
The CDC estimates that about 1,800 people per year have a fatal fall, with an estimated 16% to 27% that result from environmental factors. Fall deaths increased 31% from 2007 through 2016. At the current rate, falls are expected to increase to 7 per hour by 2030.
Common Nursing Home Fall Injuries
Falls in nursing homes aren’t the standard slip-and-fall type of injury. Because elderly people tend to be frail and have an unsteady gait, they can experience serious injuries such as:
- Broken bones, especially hip fractures
- Soft tissue damage
- Spine or spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
Three million older people are treated in emergency rooms every year for falls, and are the most common cause of TBI.
Several health issues can contribute to falling, including:
- Weakness in the lower body
- Walking and balance difficulties
- Vitamin D deficiencies
- Vision problems
- Medications, such as antidepressants/anti-anxiety meds, sedatives, tranquilizers and some OTC drugs that can cause balance issues
- Slick floors or other trip hazards in the nursing home
- Ill-fitting shoes or insufficient foot care
- Incorrect use or maintenance of walking assistance aids
Nursing Home Fall Risk Factors
Nursing homes have a duty of care towards their residence, which includes keeping the facility safe for those who live there. This includes fall prevention, minimizing risks, and ensuring that the residents are safe from injury.
The CDC predicts that by 2030, there will be 3 million people living in nursing homes. About 5% of people 65 and older are nursing home patients. Of that number, 20% suffer a fatal fall in a nursing home.
Residents of nursing homes are especially at risk for falls for a number of reasons:
- Walking/gait issues
- Lack of mobility
- Medications (same as above), as well as changes in medication
- Slick or wet floors
- Insufficient lighting
- Improper bed height
- Wheelchair maintenance insufficient or nonexistent
- Improper wheelchair size
Acutely ill patients frequently have balance and gait issues, even if they do not have cognitive difficulties.
Patients who are prescribed monbenzodiazepine hypnotic sleep medications such as zolpidem tartrate, eszopiclone, and zaleplon have an especially high risk of falling. Patients with the highest amount of risk are those taking these psychoactive drugs for the first time, or patients with cognitive difficulties.
Fall Prevention in Kansas City Nursing Homes
Nursing home facilities generally provide medical care, not medical treatment. Because of the nature of most of their patients includes frailty, nursing homes have anti-fall protocols in place for staff to help prevent residents from falling. These protocols include:
- Bed height adjustment
- Bed and other alarms to notify staff when a patient gets up
- Hand rails on walls, including patient rooms and bathrooms
- Non-slip flooring in the facility
- Providing safe footwear to the patient (instead of giving advice to the family or guardian)
- Management of continence, including additional assistance to patients who need it.
Other interventions can include:
- Teaching behavioral strategies to patients without cognitive impairment to help them avoid trip hazards in the facility
- Assistive equipment, such as grab bars, handrails and raised toilet seats
- Exercises to improve strength, walking, stability, and other physical functions
- Hip pads for patients that help prevent fractures in a fall
- Evaluating the patient’s medications for risk potential (dizziness, etc.) and reducing or eliminating them
- Evaluating the patient’s medical condition after a fall to analyze and treat underlying medical conditions and identify other risk factors.
Although bed rails are considered preventative, they don’t decrease fall risks. In fact, they can injure a patient if he or she tries to get out of the bed without assistance. This is particularly true if the bed design is obsolete, or it’s incorrectly assembled.
The use of restraints has also been found not to be of any use in fall prevention.
Does a Fall Indicate Nursing Home Negligence?
It may. Patients are supposed to be evaluated when they’re admitted to the nursing facility. Part of that assessment should be whether the patient is prone to falling, and preventions should be noted and included. Nursing homes that accept Medicare payments are required to perform these assessments, and update them regularly as the patient’s condition changes.
If the nursing home is providing adequate fall prevention, a fall might not be considered negligence. However, an investigation should be started to learn more about how and why a fall happened.
But even after evaluations and protocols, sometimes the patient’s needs aren’t met. No matter how sophisticated the facility’s fall prevention and best practices are, it only works if the nursing home staff actually uses it. That’s where negligence may occur. Nursing homes are for patients who need assistance with eating, bathing, socializing, and other regular daily functions, but they’re also frequently understaffed.
Falls also happen when a patient’s needs aren’t accommodated. For instance, if a patient experiences severe hip pain from sitting too long in a wheelchair, they may try to get out of it for relief. The hip pain should have been noted during evaluation. Staffers may respond by restraining the patient in the wheelchair with a restraint, not realizing that the patient is hurting.
But neglect can take many forms. When a patient is unattended for long periods of time, they may take matters into their own hands. Patients who need assistance to or from the bathroom may be abandoned or ignored by staff, and attempt to get to or from the bathroom on their own.
A patient may attempt to get into or out of bed, out of a wheelchair or walk to the dining area on their own because no one is there to help, resulting in a fall. These frail elderly patients aren’t found until many hours later, some with severe injuries that could eventually be fatal. While falls are an inevitable part of aging, it doesn’t mean a nursing home can allow them to happen without consequences.
Should I Hire A Nursing Home Abuse Attorney?
You should never find your loved one in dire straits, or in an abusive/neglectful situation. If you’re not getting answers from the nursing home, staffers, or medical personnel, it’s time to seek legal recourse.
Holding a nursing home responsible will also depend on the facility’s efforts to help the resident physically recover from their fall incident. Considerations into the nursing home’s liability include:
- Improper care of the patient after a fall, which may lead to other complications like bedsores or pressure ulcers
- Failing to follow the facility’s procedure for patient call buttons or care alarms
- Failing to correct environmental hazards in areas where a resident might be harmed such as wet/slippery floors or other floor hazards and insufficient lighting
Nursing homes frequently fail to report falls or notify relatives. When you visit your loved one, it’s important to keep an eye out for signs that he or she has experienced falling. The resident may not report it if they have cognitive issues, or they may be fearful of reporting it. Injuries like abrasions and bruises may indicate a recent fall, so ask for a copy of their chart. More severe injuries require medical assistance, and should be administered immediately.
Examine the patient’s medical chart to see what, if any, treatments were rendered after a fall. By federal law, the care providers are required to provide a copy of the patient’s chart to any relative acting as a guardian. Look for medical care that was rendered, neglected, or if care was withheld. If you see that your loved one is being neglected, not cared for, or has suffered injuries, begin preserving evidence, such as the clothes your loved one was wearing. Begin taking pictures of the nursing home, and get eyewitness statements to build your case.
Additionally, if you believe your loved one is the victim of abuse or neglect, the National Center on Elder Abuse has information and resources for reporting.
What A Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Will Do
Nursing home abuse is a personal injury case. An attorney must prove that the nursing home:
- Owed a duty of care to the patient resident
- Failed to uphold this duty of care
- Their failure was the direct cause of the patient’s injury and/or death
If you are able to prove the above, you or your loved one may be entitled to monetary damages for injuries, losses or other damages. A nursing home abuse attorney will gather relevant records, including medical records and documentation of the patient while at the facility. He or she will also speak with physicians, nurses and other staff to find out more about what happened and how. Once the investigation and the discovery phase are completed, he or she will file a lawsuit in court on behalf of you and your loved one.
Our Kansas City Nursing Home Fall Lawyer Can Help
If your loved one has suffered a fall, other abuse, or died as a result of a fall in a Kansas City nursing home, please know that you are not alone. Our Kansas City nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer is ready to fight for you and your loved one. Nursing home abuse cases are complicated legal matters. We can answer your questions and provide guidance on what you may consider doing next.
Our law firm is committed to protecting the rights and needs of our most vulnerable citizens. We represent individuals and families throughout Missouri and Kansas, so please contact us today at 816-203-0143 or online to schedule your appointment for your free, no obligation consultation.