Healthcare accrediting agencies such as The Joint Commission have targeted patient falls as sentinel or never events. Despite this designation, they continue to happen.
In hospitals, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality data show , up to 1 million patients fall while hospitalized in the United States each year. Over one-third of these falls cause injuries, including fractures or broken bones, head trauma, and even death. In long-term care facilities, such as skilled nursing homes, around half of nursing home residents fall annually.
Fall prevention is a multidisciplinary function, but is largely managed by professional nurses with guidance from administrator-led policies, procedures, and training. Every patient who is admitted to the hospital should be assessed for fall risk, with documentation in the medical record of the identification of that risk, as well as any fall prevention measures undertaken.
Houston’s First Court of Appeals entered an opinion in a case involving a patient fall in a skilled nursing facilities. The case is styled Pinnacle Health Facilities XV, LP d/b/a/ Brookhollow Heights Transitional Care Center, LLC v. Chase; No. 01-18-00979-CV, In the First Court of Appeals. You can read the opinion here.
In that case, the patient became a resident at Pinnacle for skilled nursing and rehabilitation care because of health conditions including cerebral atherosclerosis, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, and kidney stones.
Within a week of being admitted, he fell on the way to the bathroom and was found on the floor. The staff counseled him to use his bedside call button instead of trying to walk on his own. They documented in his record that he was a high risk for falls.
Less than a week later, the patient was in found the floor. This time, he felt while attempting to fold his clothes. The staff at Pinnacle reminded the patient to use the call button for assistance.
Later on, the facility realized that the patient’s bedside call button wasn’t working and called to have it repaired. Needless to say, the standard of care requires hospitals and nursing facilities to maintain safety equipment properly.
About a month later, the Pinnacle staff performed another fall risk assessment and documented this patient was a high risk. The note reflected that he had a history of falls and also took medications that put them at higher risk, including diuretics and blood pressure pills. Additionally, the nursing staff noted that the patient’s cognitive status caused him to sometimes forget his limitations.
Within days, the staff once again fallible before. This time he had a laceration on his head and they transferred him to get Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital. There, CT scan showed bleeding on both sides of his brain. Within a few weeks, he died from subdural hemorrhage due to blood-impact head trauma.
In the medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit that followed, the patient’s family sued the Pinnacle facility, alleging violations of the standard of care including:
• Failure to train and supervise the nursing staff to prevent falls and injuries.
• Failure to have adequate policies and procedures for fall prevention.
• Failure to monitor the patient properly.
• Failure to take necessary precautions to prevent falls.
Although Pinnacle challenged the sufficiency of the plaintiff’s preliminary expert report from a board-certified physician, both the trial and appellate courts found that it was adequate and allowed the case to proceed.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured because of poor care for fall prevention in Texas, then contact a top-rated experienced Texas medical malpractice lawyer for free consultation about your potential case. With hospital and healthcare facility policies preventing family members and visitors during the COVID pandemic, we’ve seen an uptick in fall cases.