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Nursing homes, falls and liability

More than 100,000 people in Illinois currently live in long-term care facilities. Most residents of nursing homes are either unable to care for themselves, or they have serious health needs that require close monitoring. Falls, in particular, are high on the list of injuries that cause individuals over the age of 65 to enter a nursing home. Unfortunately, falls are also a major issue for those who live in nursing homes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1,800 nursing home residents die every year from injuries sustained in falls, and statistics show that more than half of all nursing home residents fall at least once per year. More than one-third of fall injuries are sustained by residents who are unable to walk. A Lake County personal injury lawyer understands that problems such as inadequate staffing, facility hazards and medication issues are among the leading causes of preventable falls.

Adequate staffing prevents falls

Families for Better Care, an elderly advocacy group, ranks nursing homes across the country and applies a grade rating to each state. Illinois nursing homes have received failing grades for 2013 and 2014 because of the amount of direct staffing care that each resident receives. On average, individuals in nursing homes received about two hours and fifteen minutes of direct care per day, which is far below the recommended three hours. According to the director of the program, adding an average of 22 minutes of direct care to each resident daily can make the difference between quality and inferior care. A research study published in the Journal of Nursing Care Quality found a direct correlation between the level of nurse staffing and the number of patient falls.

The online professional journal Advanced Practice Nursing listed several effective strategies that nursing home staff can do to reduce the risk of falls. This includes performing routine assessments of each patient to evaluate the following:

  • Mobility
  • Vision
  • Use of ambulatory device
  • Continence
  • Use of medications
  • Attached equipment

Without adequate nursing staff, patients may not receive personalized care developed through this type of regular assessment that is necessary for safety.

In understaffed nursing homes with high turnover, untrained workers may be more inclined to use restraints as a way to prevent falls. A Lake County personal injury lawyer may be aware that federal laws restrict the use of restraints unless a physician orders them for a specific amount of time. Research shows that they actually increase the risk of fall-related injuries. Movement is limited to the point of developing muscle weakness, rigidity, deformity and other loss of physical function. Unfortunately, restraints have been used for the convenience of staff when a patient is difficult or requires extra attention for safety. This form of neglect or abuse often causes emotional distress as well as physical suffering.

If a family member suspects that a loved one is at risk or in pain because of the actions or neglect of nursing home staff, it is critical to report any evidence immediately. Anytime a staff member hurts a resident, that individual is liable, and frequently management and the facility owner may also be held accountable for the conditions that led to the harm.

Problems with the facility

The CDC lists environmental hazards as one of the highest risk factors for nursing home falls. Between 16 and 27 percent of these occur due to the following types of dangers:

  • Slippery or uneven surfaces
  • Poor lighting
  • Incorrect bed height
  • Lack of adequate hand and bed rails

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends keeping all nursing home hallways clear and free of clutter. Floors should be covered with no-skid waxes, and proper signage should be used anytime there is a wet or slick surface. Residents should all have properly fitting shoes or socks with non-skid traction on them to prevent slips.

When a fall occurs as a direct result of a facility problem, it is often grounds for a premises liability claim. If a manager or employee knew of the hazard, or should have known about it but did not take steps to rectify the problem, that person may be at least partially responsible for the damages that occurred. The recently amended Nursing Home Care Act places liability on the owner of the facility when intentional or negligent acts caused by any staff members lead to an injury or wrongful death of a resident.

Medication issues

Nursing home residents often take a number of medications, and these should always be monitored by a doctor as well as other direct care staff. Sedatives, anti-anxiety drugs and other medicines that affect the central nervous system are especially problematic. The first three days after a change in regimen with these types of drugs the patient is at a much higher risk of a fall, according to the CDC. Proper evaluation of the risks and benefits of each medication by a medical professional is necessary. The patient should be informed of the change and possible side effects such as dizziness or light-headedness.

When a fall occurs because a patient is taking an unnecessary prescription, or the use of the medication is not properly monitored, it may be grounds for a medical malpractice claim. In a report by National Public Radio, investigators allegedly discovered that doctors do not always examine patients before writing prescriptions, and some have prescribed medication based on the advice of nursing home staff that are not medical professionals. A prescription that is given without approval by the patient or, if the patient is not cognizant, a close relative is a violation of federal law.

A fall may occur because of one risk factor or a combination. Any nursing home resident who is injured from a fall should immediately seek medical attention. If there is a question about the condition that caused the fall, a Lake County personal injury lawyer may be able to provide assistance in gathering the evidence necessary to hold all responsible parties liable.

Years of Experience: More than 30 years
Illinois Registration Status Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association – 1974-Present
Lake County Bar Association
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association
Lake County Bar Association Civil Trial and Appeals Committee
Federal Bar Association – Northern District of Illinois
Admitted to the Supreme Court of the United States – May 28, 1991

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