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How Nursing Homes Must Prevent Choking Deaths

Nursing home resident in a wheelchair eats a meal.

Nursing home residents need 24-hour care to help with many activities of daily living, including eating and drinking. One of the facility’s most important responsibilities is to help residents with meals, and that includes preventing choking incidents and deaths.

Unfortunately, far too many nursing homes in Georgia fail to meet that standard of care, and the consequences can be tragic. Nursing homes need to be properly staffed and follow proper procedures to protect residents from choking deaths. When they don’t, they can be held accountable through a nursing home neglect claim.

Long-term choking prevention

Preventing choking incidents starts with understanding each resident’s needs at mealtimes. Potential choking dangers should be assessed and accounted for in the resident’s treatment plan. For example, if a resident uses dentures, they need to be properly fitted to allow the resident to chew their food thoroughly.

In some instances, the nursing home may need to recommend follow-up care to ensure residents are protected. For example, residents who have suspected difficulty swallowing need a swallow study conducted by an appropriately trained medical professional to assess the danger and recommend appropriate interventions.

Day-to-day choking prevention

Nursing homes need to follow safety best practices at mealtimes in order to minimize the risk of choking. Some of these choking prevention measures include:

  • Angling chairs properly: proper positioning during meals reduces the risk of choking and aspiration (inhaling food). Laying down during meals increases the risk.
  • Implementing soft diets: if a resident needs to be on a soft diet, then the nursing home has to actually provide them with soft foods. Too many choking incidents occur when a nursing home serves tough or dry foods to a resident who is supposed to be on a soft diet.
  • Not accounting for dry mouth: residents on certain medications or with certain medical conditions may produce less saliva, which makes it harder for food to break down in the mouth during the chewing process. Nursing homes need to be aware of these symptoms and take steps to mitigate dangers.
  • Monitoring residents during mealtimes: staff need to supervise residents while they are eating and drinking to minimize the risk of choking. Unfortunately, in understaffed facilities, this frequently does not occur.
  • Stopping residents from saving food: food that is pocketed or cheeked and consumed later presents a choking hazard when the facility is not prepared to respond.

Intervening to prevent choking deaths

Even in facilities that take all possible preventative measures, there is always some risk of a choking incident. That’s why staff need to be trained in the Heimlich maneuver and other emergency interventions. Once someone starts choking, there is only a very brief window of time to prevent permanent brain damage or death. It’s critical that the nearest staff member be able to immediately intervene to protect the resident’s life.

Legal options for families of choking victims in nursing homes

When a nursing home resident is injured or dies in a choking incident, neglect is almost always to blame. The nursing home may have been understaffed, failed to communicate the resident’s needs at mealtimes, or failed to implement proper safety protocols. Residents and their families can seek compensation from the facility through the civil justice system.

However, getting compensation for nursing home neglect is often difficult. Nursing homes fight hard to deny liability and dispute claims. That’s why you need an attorney who has extensive experience fighting and winning high-stakes nursing home negligence cases. If your loved one was injured or died in a choking incident at a Georgia nursing home, contact Kurle Justus, LLC in Decatur for a free consultation.

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