Nursing Home Falls and Ne…

If you have a loved one in a nursing home, chances are the decision to move them there was a long and difficult one. Even if they were on board with the decision, you likely reviewed a number of alternatives first before settling on long-term care as the best option.

Most people who arrive at the decision that an elderly parent or family member needs to be in a nursing home do so because their health issues cannot be properly managed in a more independent setting. In exchange for the loss of independence and home environment, the expectation is that the loved one will receive a higher level of care and protection—in general, that they will be safer than they would have been in their own home.

Unfortunately, this assumption is not always accurate. A surprising number of patients have falls in nursing homes; according to a 2004 CDC report, 33.9% of nursing home patients had suffered a fall in the previous 180 days. For an already frail, elderly patient, a fall can lead to a host of serious complications, including hip fractures, other broken bones, and even brain injuries. And while not every fall results in an injury, those that do can seriously diminish a nursing home resident's quality of life and even hasten their death.

Of course, not all nursing home falls are caused by nursing home negligence, but many are. Here are some things you need to know about the causes of falls, and your recourse if your loved one is injured in a fall at a long-term care facility.

Was the Nursing Home to Blame for My Parent's Fall?

Falls can be caused by a number of different factors, and in fact, are often caused by different factors in combination. There are factors that are intrinsic to the patient, such as poor vision or balance, and external factors, such as uneven or slippery flooring. In addition, there are situational factors, such as a patient needing to use the restroom but being unable to summon the needed assistance to get there.

Just because intrinsic factors are largely responsible for a nursing home resident's fall doesn't mean that the fall was unavoidable. Nursing homes are required by law to assess residents' risk of falls, and by extension to manage and limit that risk. To the extent that they fail to do so, they may be found negligent and have liability for the considerable expense—often hundreds of thousands of dollars—caused by a patient's fall in the nursing home.

Frequent causes of nursing home falls include:

  • Overmedicating patients, in some cases to make them more compliant
  • Patients who attempt to walk on their own, often to the bathroom, because staff did not respond to calls for assistance
  • Failure to properly evaluate a patient's fall risk or to update an evaluation for changed circumstances
  • Insufficient staffing for patient transfer and transport
  • Insufficient training for staff in transferring and transporting patients
  • Slippery, dirty, or cluttered floors
  • Poor patient foot care
  • Improperly fitted footwear
  • Walking aids (such as walkers and quad canes) that are improperly used or maintained
  • Patients who are dehydrated and, as a result, dizzy or disoriented
  • Patients with muscle weakness, poor vision, gait issues, or balance issues

Most of the above circumstances are preventable with adequate staffing and proper staff training. Even those issues that are intrinsic to the patient, such as muscle weakness, should be evaluated by staff and factored into the patient's fall risk, and a plan made to prevent that intrinsic problem from leading to a fall (such as making sure there is staff available to help a patient get to the bathroom).

What Can I Do If My Parent Fell in the Nursing Home?

Although nursing home falls are disturbingly frequent, that doesn't mean you have to accept them as a fact of life. Given that such falls lead to around 1,800 wrongful deaths and even more serious injuries each year, nursing homes and long-term facilities should be held to account for failing to prevent those falls that they are able to.

Your first step should be to consult with an experienced Oregon nursing home negligence attorney. You have a limited amount of time to file a claim against the nursing home, and given the costs occasioned by a nursing home fall, you and your family member may need compensation for their injury in order to care for them properly.

Why speak to an attorney? There are a number of reasons. First, the consultation costs you nothing and can give you direction as to whether you should consider pursuing a claim. An ethical attorney, knowing the expense and stress of litigation, will not encourage you to file a claim that doesn't have a reasonable likelihood of success. Second, an attorney experienced in medical malpractice and nursing home negligence cases will be able to investigate your claim much more thoroughly than you would on your own. Third, experienced attorneys will be able to evaluate the value of your claim so that if a settlement is offered, you will know whether it is likely to really meet your loved one's needs. Lastly, if the matter proceeds all the way to trial, an attorney who is familiar with these cases and has a strong track record can advocate for you most effectively.

We invite you to contact our Portland, Oregon law office to discuss your loved one's injury due to a nursing home fall. Our attorneys work with victims of nursing home negligence and their families throughout Oregon. We look forward to helping you and your family.