Posted By Alan Sackrin on May 5, 2016
Slip and fall accidents can be difficult for anyone, but they are particularly harsh when the victim is a resident of a nursing home. Most nursing home residents have a real fear of falling and getting hurt.
It’s a fear that most loved ones of nursing home residents share. And, sadly, these fears are well-founded. Especially here in Florida. Here’s what we mean….
Nursing Homes Are Big Business
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (”CDC”), in 2014, there were 15,600 nursing homes operating in the United States with a total of 1,400,000 residents. In 2012 there were 72,000 people in Florida living in nursing homes.
These facilities are competing for business in what is considered to be an industry of sky-rocketing growth, as the Baby Boomer generation ages into their post-65 years.
Unfortunately, sometimes competition can bring out the worst in people: last year in South Florida a nursing home chain (Plaza Health Network fka Hebrew Homes Health Network) agreed to pay $17,000,000 in fines to the Justice Department as well as five years of federal monitoring for illegally paying doctors to refer Medicare patients to its facilities. See, “South Florida nursing home chain to pay $17 million in federal settlement,” published in the Miami Herald in June 2015.
These facilities are in the business to make money for their owners and shareholders. According to the CDC, an overwhelming majority of these nursing care facilities — 68% — operate for a profit.
Some of these national nursing home chains are billion-dollar businesses, like industry leader Genesis HealthCare Corporation, reporting $4.7 Billion in annual revenue. Genesis is the biggest nursing home company in the country; among its competitors are other huge national chains like HCR ManorCare (2nd in the country); Golden Living (3rd); and Florida’s own Consulate Health Care (6th).
Providing Care and Making Money: Conflicting Interests?
Of course, nursing homes are places whose purpose is to provide care and comfort to those who can no longer live independently. Nevertheless, today’s nursing homes, for the most part, are revenue-generating operations.
They are businesses working to make a profit in one of the fastest growing segments of the health care industry. And when profit-making is involved, from a personal injury lawyer’s perspective, that is usually a red flag that there may be short cuts being taken.
Why? Because all too often, it’s not profitable to make these facilities as safe as they could be for residents.
Are Florida Nursing Homes Safe?
That is one of the first issues to consider when evaluating a facility for a loved one: how safe is the nursing home when profit is their purpose? Here is some information to consider:
First, evaluate what the federal health inspectors have found. U.S. News and World Report has compiled the rankings given to Florida nursing home facilities by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. You can insert a particular nursing home’s zip code in their online tool to find the ranking given by the federal inspectors for that facility.
If you check their report for the Sunshine State at their website, you will find that only 23% of Florida’s nursing homes got the top, five-star rating.
(Medicare also offers an online database to compare nursing home facilities.)
2. Accident Statistics
The CDC has compiled numerous research studies into the risk of slip and fall accidents and falling injuries in American nursing homes. Unbelievably, the CDC research reports reveal that as many as 75% of nursing home residents will fall each year and sustain some sort of injury.
That’s right: SEVENTY FIVE PERCENT.
The Increased Danger of Serious Injury in Falls for the Elderly
Of particular concern, again from a personal injury lawyer’s viewpoint, is that these accidents are going to involve victims who are likely to have frail bones which makes them especially vulnerable to fractures (broken bones – broken hips). Even a minor fall can result in life-threatening complications for someone of advanced years.
The Special Danger of a Fractured Hip in a Fall
A fractured hip is a serious event for anyone, but particularly someone who is 70+ years old. Over 95% of broken hips suffered in the United States are the result of a fall.
Women over the age of 65 are most likely to suffer a hip fracture (75%) and osteoporosis often contributes to the severity of their injuries.
What is the Reality of Living in a Nursing?
According to the CDC’s findings, we know that nursing home residents are very, very likely to fall. And often they are seriously injured and sometimes they die from their injuries. From the data, we know:
1. 1800 nursing home residents die each year from injuries sustained in a fall.
2. 20% of nursing home resident deaths each year are related to fall accident injury.
3. A nursing home resident can expect to fall on the average of 2.6 times each year.
4. Falls happen not only with residents who are ambulatory, but those that are not able to walk for themselves. Over a third of serious fall injuries happen to nursing home residents who are handicapped and cannot walk.
5. A nursing home resident is TWICE as likely to suffer a fall as someone the same age who does not live in a nursing facility.
1. Fall accidents are the leading cause of injury-related death among Florida residents 65+ years old;
2. Almost 75% of fall injuries in Florida were suffered by someone aged 65 years or older; and
3. The average hospital stay for a senior citizen in Florida who suffered injury in a slip and fall accident was 4 days.
Preventing Slip and Fall Accidents in Florida Nursing Homes
So, why are there so many slip and fall and trip and fall accidents in nursing homes? And what can be done about this, to try and prevent falls in Florida nursing facilities?
Of course, the nursing home and its insurance adjusters and defense attorneys will be quick to point out that residents of nursing homes have special needs and certain conditions that makes them more susceptible to falling down, and this isn’t the fault of the nursing home or its staff.
And it is true that elders can have chronic conditions that may make it harder for them to balance or to walk securely, even down a short hallway or to their restroom. Medications can cause residents to be dizzy or disoriented.
Many residents may need the help of a health aid like a wheelchair, walker, or cane which, if used incorrectly, can contribute to a slip and fall accident.
However, the truth is that residents are in the nursing home to be cared for and assisted. Nurses, aides, and staff are to be aware of the individual’s special needs. It’s obvious that these residents are in need of help or they wouldn’t be living in the nursing home, right?
To this end, the CDC has suggested several steps for nursing homes to take to prevent slip and falls, including:
- Assessing patients after a fall to identify and address risk factors and treat the underlying medical conditions.
- Educating staff about fall risk factors and prevention strategies.
- Reviewing prescribed medicines to assess their potential risks and benefits and to minimize use.
- Making changes in the nursing home environment to make it easier for residents to move around safely. Such changes include putting in grab bars, adding raised toilet seats, lowering bed heights, and installing handrails in the hallways.
- Providing patients with hip pads that may prevent a hip fracture if a fall occurs.
- Exercise programs can improve balance, strength, walking ability, and physical functioning among nursing home residents. However, such programs do not appear to reduce falls.
- Teaching residents who are not cognitively impaired behavioral strategies to avoid potentially hazardous situations is a promising approach.
Knowing that the risk of serious injury or even death is high for nursing home residents, it’s not asking too much to expect that special precautions be taken to protect the elderly from falling – it is something that needs to be done a lot more than is happening in nursing homes today.
This is true especially when we know that environmental hazards cause up to 27% of nursing home falls. What are these hazards? Things like inadequate lighting; beds that are too high so that the resident falls as he or she tries to get out of bed; and improperly maintained wheelchairs.
Claims Against Nursing Homes for Slip and Fall Injuries
Nursing home residents who suffer injuries from a slip and fall (and their loved ones) should be aware of the legal claims that may be available to them under Florida law.
Under Florida’s personal injury laws, claims can be pursued based upon premises liability, medication errors, product liability and more. As with other businesses, like grocery stores and restaurants, nursing home operators must keep their property and premises reasonably safe and free from dangers that could cause someone to fall and get injured.
This means keeping people safe from falling hazards like wet floors (these are a real problem in nursing homes) and inadequate lighting in darkened hallways.
It also means medical staff should constantly monitor residents and their medications (particularly when there has been a recent change in medicines or dosages). Someone should be responsible for periodically (hourly) checking on a resident, making sure they have eaten, used the bathroom (change their undergarments), taken their medication, or to simply engage with the resident.
Further, nursing homes are required to adhere to certain federal regulations and the failure to meet these regulations may form the basis of a negligence claim especially if a slip and fall accident were to occur.
See, for instance, federal regulation 42 CFR 483.25 (h), requiring nursing homes to keep the residents’ environment as “free from accident hazards as possible” and that “each resident receive adequate supervision and assistance devices to prevent accidents.”
Do You Have a Slip and Fall Accident Damages Claim Against a Florida Nursing Home?
If you or a loved one have been the victim of a slip and fall accident in a South Florida nursing home, then you may want to investigate possible legal claims against the nursing home with an experienced Florida personal injury lawyer. The nursing home and its parent corporation may be legally obligated to cover the damages that have resulted from that accident, including medical costs, pain and suffering, rehab expenses, and more.
This is especially true if you can find evidence that the nursing home failed to follow a Medicare regulation, like the regulation listed above, or if the nursing home was not complying with its own internal corporate safety protocols.
A good piece of advice if you or a loved one has been injured in a slip and fall at a nursing home, is to at least speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.
- Slip/Trip and Falls in Florida
- Hospital Slip and Fall Accidents
- How To Survive A Summary Judgment Hearing Related To Your Slip And Fall Claim
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.