Choking and Aspiration

Sadly, thousands of nursing home and assisted living facility residents die each year due to choking or aspirating on food. These deaths are entirely preventable if nursing home or assisted living facility staff are properly trained and not overworked.

Difficulty with swallowing is a common problem with nursing home and assisted living facility residents. Swallowing issues commonly result from a stroke or neuromuscular disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, ALS, or MS.

When a resident at a nursing home exhibits trouble with swallowing, typically, a speech therapist will perform a swallow study. Imaging, including barium swallow studies, can also be performed to determine a person’s ability to effectively and completely swallow without any food or liquid entering their trachea.

People who completely lack the ability to swallow, those with complete dysphagia, are typically fed by a gastric tube surgically implanted into their stomach. In this manner, the risk of choking or aspirating food and liquids is eliminated. Sometimes, people with “g-tubes” are allowed to eat a little bit of food, termed “pleasure eating.” Of course, close supervision is required.

However, many people have incomplete deficits in their ability to swallow that do not warrant a g-tube. After the completion of a swallowing study, the speech therapist will often make recommendations to a dietician that the resident be placed on an appropriate diet plan.

A “level one” dysphagia diet is for people with moderate to severe dysphagia. Such a diet consists of soups, yogurt, and pureed meat, pureed vegetables and pureed fruit. It is also important that such a resident only eat while sitting up, to allow gravity to assist in the process. On a level one diet some people cannot drink thin liquids as they are too likely to aspirate the liquid into their lungs. As a result, a thickener is added.

A “level two” diet allows a person to also eat soft breads, such as pancakes, oatmeal, canned fruits without skins, mashed potatoes, soft cooked vegetables, moistened ground meats and moist pastas.

A “level three” diet is the least restrictive and also moist meats and fish that are cut into small pieces, eggs, rice, and cooked vegetables.

As Jacksonville nursing home abuse and neglect lawyers, often the problem we see is not in the creation of an appropriate plan, but the inability to follow through with supervision during the eating process. Each of these diet plans may also require supervision, especially with residents who are also suffering from cognitive deficits. Supervision is also necessary to ensure that a resident is not accidentally provided inappropriate foods.

This is where understaffing comes in. Often, certified nurse assistants will help with the eating and supervision of eating. When they are stretched thin by having too many residents to care for, accidents happen. The results can be disastrous as it only takes a minute for someone to choke and lose consciousness.

In order to effectively prosecute a case for injury or death resulting from choking, it is important to hire an attorney experienced in suing nursing homes and assisted living facilities. First, there are strict pre-suit requirements that must be met before suit is filed. Otherwise, the claim can be lost without ever being heard by a judge, jury or arbitration panel.

Second, the defendant nursing homes are, without exception, reluctant to divulge information. Usually, we get objections to routine requests for information. It takes months, dogged determination, and court orders to get the information we need to determine why an accident happened. Almost without exception, we find that the nursing home was understaffed when these types of accidents occur.

Lastly, it is necessary to hire lawyers with the financial resources to hire all of the expert witnesses necessary to effectively prosecute a claim. In some cases, our law firm has spent as much as $150,000.00 on expert witnesses. Typically, in a choking case, we will need the following experts: 1. a registered nurse; 2. a speech therapist; 3. a dietician; and 4. a medical doctor.

If you are in need of a nursing home abuse or neglect attorney in relation to an injury or death caused by choking or aspirating food, please contact us for a free consultation. We handle nursing home and assisted living facility cases throughout Northeast Florida including Jacksonville, Clay County, St. Johns County, Bradford County, Baker County, Nassau County, Volusia County, Flagler County, Union County, and Alachua County.

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