Patient falls in nursing homes are a significant public health problem. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that around 1,800 elderly adults who live in nursing homes die every year from injuries related to falls. The CDC also indicates that many more nursing home patients suffer serious and often permanent injuries due to falls.
Tragically, a significant injury fall can result in expensive medical costs, ongoing and severe pain and suffering and a host of other complications for the fall victim. If the nursing home or the hospital was responsible in some manner for causing the fall, then the care provider may be held legally accountable and made to compensate the victim or his surviving family members.
To learn more about your legal rights and options if you or a loved one has suffered a fall in a nursing home in Indianapolis or elsewhere in Indiana, call the Law Office of Kelley J. Johnson at (877) 628-7104 or complete our online form. An experienced elder abuse and neglect attorney from our firm can provide a free evaluation of your case.
We also strongly recommend that you contact the Indiana State Department of Health. You can file a complaint online. The ISDH can respond to your complaint by conducting an investigation or survey of the nursing home. The ISDH may find violations of federal regulations at the facility and recommend a plan of correction.
The Dangers of Slip and Fall Injuries in Nursing Homes
The CDC indicates that falls are more likely to occur in nursing homes than elsewhere. This is because nursing home residents generally have more health issues that are likely to lead to falls. They are older, and they may have problems with walking, balancing, memory and caring for themselves.
While it is difficult to know exactly how many falls occur and how many cause serious injuries, available data does demonstrate that far too many people are being hurt each year in significant injury nursing home falls.
- A typical nursing home with 100 beds will report between 100 and 200 falls each year. However, many falls go unreported.
- Between one-half and three-quarters of nursing home residents fall every year. The rate of falls for those living in nursing homes is twice the rate of falls for elderly adults of the same age group living in the community.
- Around 35 percent of nursing home residents who fall are unable to walk.
- Nursing home residents account for 20 percent of all deaths from falls in the 65-plus age group. However, only 5 percent of people within this age group live in nursing homes. This means that a disproportionate number of the fall deaths occur in nursing home facilities.
This may seem like a huge number of falls occur, especially in nursing home settings. However, not every fall is a significant injury fall. Whether a fall is significant or not is going to depend upon whether serious, life-changing or permanent injuries resulted. Of course, falls that cause death are the most serious and tragic of all fall injuries.
Causes of Patient Falls in Nursing Homes
As the CDC indicates, the high number of falls in nursing homes can be explained, in part, by the infirmity of many nursing home patients. However, a person’s failing health alone is not the only reason for nursing home falls.
The CDC breaks down some of the top causes of nursing home falls, which include the following:
- Health problems that cause muscle weakness or problems with walking or gait are the cause of approximately 24 percent of nursing home falls.
- Environmental hazards are the cause of approximately 16-27 percent of falls among nursing home residents. These health hazards may include bad lighting, wet or slippery floors, a bed set at the incorrect height and wheelchairs that are not properly fitted or maintained.
- Medications are another potential cause of nursing home falls. The CDC indicates that anti-anxiety medications and sedatives are especially likely to cause falls and that the risk of a fall is greatest within three days of a change in medication.
- Difficulty in moving from one location to another, shoes that don’t fit, poor foot care and improper use of walking aids are also identified by CDC as causes of nursing home falls.
Nursing Homes Have a Responsibility to Protect Residents
A study called “Preventing Falls in the Elderly” also reports that many falls are related to environmental hazards, and many risk factors of falls are preventable. In fact, it is important to realize that nursing homes should be aware that their patients are in poor health and at risk of falling and should take steps to protect their residents and ensure nursing home fall prevention.
When a nursing home fails to ensure a safe environment, fails to supervise elderly residents or engages in other types of wrongful behavior, then the negligence or wrongful act of the nursing home itself can be considered a factor in causing the fall.
Nursing homes may be responsible for a fall if:
- They fail to maintain a safe environment for nursing home residents. This includes ensuring floors are not slippery, marking wet floors, providing proper assistive walking devices, securing residents carefully in beds and wheel chairs and supervising patients who are at risk.
- They neglect to monitor a patient’s medication and to identify side effects, including fall risks.
- They use chemical restraints. A report released in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicated that around 14 percent of patients in nursing homes had been prescribed anti-psychotic drugs to control their behavior even though there was no legitimate medical need for such prescription.
- They do not identify risk factors for a senior and/or they provide insufficient assistance and supervision. For example, a senior with difficulty balancing should not be left alone to bathe in a shower with no grab bars or in-shower seat, as this can significantly increase the potential for a serious injury fall.
The CDC cautions against the excessive use of physical restraints in preventing falls in nursing homes. Instead, they suggest assessing patients to understand the causes of falls, reviewing and minimizing fall risks, offering exercise programs and teaching residents techniques to avoid falling.
Unfortunately, some nursing homes simply fail to live up to their obligations. In fact, the American Association for Justice (AAJ) indicates there were 20,673 complaints in 2003 of abuse or gross neglect in nursing homes. The AAJ also indicates that around 90 percent of nursing homes in the U.S. have staff levels that are too low to provide adequate care.
When there are too few staff members, when staff members are improperly trained or too busy or when staff members are intentionally neglectful or abusive, nursing home residents are at great risk of becoming victims of a serious fall.
Common Elderly Fall Injuries
When an elderly nursing home resident falls, he or she can suffer a variety of different injuries. When the fall is a serious one or a significant one, then the injury can be expensive and life changing.
Some of the serious injuries that nursing home residents are likely to suffer in a fall include:
- Brain injury – For adults ages 65 and older, the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) reports that falls are the second most common cause of brain injury.
- Bone fractures – According to NFSI, falls account for 87 percent of bone fractures in people ages 65 and older. Hip fractures are especially common. In fact, “Preventing Falls in the Elderly” reports that one of every 200 seniors between ages 65-69 who falls will fracture a hip. Once a nursing home resident is 85 and older, he or she is between 10 and 15 times more likely to fracture a hip than a younger person. For this age group, as many as one out of every ten people who fall will suffer a hip fracture.
- Spinal cord damage – NFSI reports that falls are the second most common cause of spinal cord damage for seniors.
- Death – CDC reports that falls are a top cause of death for those over 65.
It can be devastating to a senior to suffer these injuries. When recovery is possible – and it isn’t always possible – the process of obtaining treatment and medical help is normally very time consuming and expensive. These injuries also cause significant pain.
If a nursing home is responsible for the fall and resulting injuries, the nursing home needs to be held accountable for the losses they caused.
Nursing Home Residents Should Seek Legal Help for Significant Fall Injuries
Nursing homes assume an obligation to provide reasonable care for the seniors who are residents in their home. When a nursing home fails in providing this type of care, then the nursing home is in breach of their legal duty and is considered negligent in the eyes of the law.
It is important to realize that nursing homes can be held responsible based on their own negligence (such as if they understaffed or failed to screen staff) or based on the negligence of their staff. When a staff member is careless, this staff member is an “agent” of the nursing home, or is acting on behalf of the home. The nursing home (the principal) is responsible for the acts of the staff (their agent).
However, the burden is on the injured victim or his family members to take action against the nursing home. The victim will need to file a civil lawsuit and prove that the nursing home was negligent or careless and that this negligence was the direct cause of the fall. An Indianapolis nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer can help.
A nursing home abuse or neglect case can be resolved through an out-of-court settlement or through taking the claim to the jury. In either case, you need an advocate to stand up to the nursing home and its insurers and to represent you.
At the Law Office of Kelley J. Johnson, our Indianapolis nursing home abuse and neglect attorney has the legal knowledge and expertise necessary to help you make a successful case.
If a loved one has experienced a fall in a nursing home, call the Law Office of Kelley J. Johnson, or use our online contact form to have us review your case.
- Falls in Nursing Homes, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Same Level Slip-and-Fall Statistics, National Floor Safety Institute
- Preventing Falls in the Elderly, Colorado State University Extension
- Medicare Atypical Antipsychotic Drug Claims for Elderly Nursing Home Residents, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Nursing Home Statistics, American Association for Justice