A Minnesota nursing home resident choked to death on March 18, 2011 while eating fruit from his dinner tray because the nursing home staff failed to supervise the 90-year-old man while he was eating, as they were required to do because of the man’s known swallowing problems. A nursing assistant had brought the resident his dinner tray and left it in the room while the man’s wife, who had memory problems that prevented her from helping her husband with his meal and prevented her from recognizing an emergency situation, was visiting him.
After the man began coughing, two nurses came into his room and determined that he had stopped breathing and that his heart had stopped. No attempts were made to revive the man because he had a “do not resuscitate” order in his chart.
The nursing home issued a statement in which it claimed that the man and his family had requested that no assistance be given to the man while he was eating but the statement did not address the requirement that the man be supervised while eating his meals — there is a big difference between providing actual assistance with eating (such as feeding a resident) and providing supervision during eating, which is intended to prevent someone from choking while eating.
The family had intended to bring the man home for hospice care the same day that he choked to death, due to complications from pneumonia. The man’s death precluded his family from being with him during hospice care.
A state investigation into the matter found the nursing home to be responsible for the man’s death but did not order the nursing home to take any corrective action.
Most people take for granted their ability to chew and swallow their food without choking or experiencing other swallowing problems. However, there are many medical conditions that can affect a person’s ability to swallow that could make it dangerous or deadly for the person to eat certain foods or consume foods with certain consistencies — for example, some people need to have their meals pureed in order to safely consume them.
If a person may have difficulty swallowing, an appropriate and timely swallowing evaluation, often performed by an appropriately trained and experienced speech pathologist, can help determine the extent of the swallowing dysfunction and the extent of food modification and safety precautions necessary in order for the person to safely receive nutrition. It is also important that a swallowing re-evaluation be done when needed to determine if a change in food preparation or food consumption may be necessary or desirable.
If you or a family member have been injured due to medical negligence (also referred to as medical malpractice) in a nursing home, in a hospital, or by a medical provider, you may want to seek the advice of a medical malpractice attorney to investigate your potential medical malpractice claim.
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