The Illinois Department of Public Health cited and fined Hillcrest Retirement Village in Round Lake Beach after a resident there fell forward from her wheelchair and suffered a broken neck.
The resident at issue was a stroke survivor with right sided hemiplegia. During the care planning process, she was assessed as being a high fall risk. She was given a wheelchair with a reclined back to help reduce her fall risk. A family member and a friend who visited the resident separately earlier on the day of the accident both saw the resident lean forward in her chair to the point that they were concerned that she would fall from her wheelchair.
The friend who visited told the nurse on duty on her way out of the facility that she was worried about the resident’s leaning forward and possibly falling out of her wheelchair. The nurse went into check on her, adjusted her in her wheelchair and left her to watch TV. A few minutes later a visitor to the nursing home informed the nurse that the resident had fallen.
The resident was brought to the hospital where scans showed that she had fractures at the C1 and C2 levels – the highest levels up on the neck. Due to the resident’s age, surgery would not be pursued, meaning that she would have to remain in a cervical collar for the rest of her life. These are very dangerous injuries, according to the resident’s neurosurgeon and can in fact be fatal injuries.
The Director of Nursing at the nursing home told state inspectors that the resident had been trying to get out of the chair from Day 1 and that she should have been placed in a well-supervised area.
Many times, when families come to see us after a nursing home fall, one of the concerns that they have is that their family member should have been restrained so that the accident could not have happened. That is actually the wrong tack to take because restraints can result in even more serious accidents.
Rather, the right approach is what the Director of Nursing indicated: that the resident should have been brought in an area where she could be closely supervised, especially given the concerns voiced by the resident’s friend. Not only would this provide her with the right kind of supervision in the moment, it would also give the nursing staff better data with which to revise the resident fall prevention care plan if that was called for.
It was interesting to see that a reclined wheelchair was in use. These can be effective for helping to prevent falls in residents with poor trunk control (as was apparently the case here), but they also carry the risk of developing bed sores. The use of this kind of wheelchair needs to be a carefully considered nursing judgment.
Our law firm serves nursing home residents who have been injured in falls and their families. Contact our experienced Chicago nursing home lawyers to learn more about what can be done after a fall and what your rights are. There is no charge for contacting us, and you are not obligated to hire us if you do call.
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