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Nursing Homes Abuse Blog By Jonathan Rosenfeld

Wheelchair Patients Must Be Supervised To Avoid Injury & Death

Posted in Dropped Patients, Subdural Hematoma

As a nursing home attorney, most of my cases fit cleanly within one category of negligence – bedsores, falls, elopement, medication errors or choking.  Recently, I feel like I may need to add ‘wheelchair accidents’ to the list of these primarily preventable and tragic situations.

Wheelchair accidents too common in the long-term care setting

When I say wheelchair incidents, I am referring to any of a number of situations where a patient harmed to a poor instruction or supervision on the part of the facility staff.  Examples of wheelchair incidents include:

  • Patients who fall or are dropped while getting into or out of a wheelchair
  • Patients sliding from a wheelchair while left unattended
  • Staff failing to secure wheelchair patients into a van or bus
  • Pressure sores developing because a patient is left in a wheelchair for extended period
  • Patients legs caught on doorways when attendant staff fail to look where they are pushing the patient
  • A serious injury resulting from a fall or spill from a wheelchair that without properly locked wheels

The innocent sound of ‘wheelchair’ is particularly deceptive

I was again reminded how this seemingly innocent emblem of ‘old age’ can turn deadly when I read about an incident at an assisted living facility where a wheelchair bound patient rolled down a decline and fell out of here wheelchair. As reported by DecaturDaily.com, 94-year-old Elizabeth Street remained largely confined to her wheelchair was a patient at an assisted living faculty where the facility was in the process of conducting a fire drill.  Apparently, Ms. Street’s wheelchair rolled down a decline and threw her out of the chair into an adjacent ditch.  There days after the incident, Ms. Street died due to an apparent series of medical complications she developed following the fall. According to the article, Ms. Street’s son is unsure if he’s interested in pursuing the facility for their role— or perhaps inattention—involving his mother’s death.  Certainty, he is entitled to his opinion and may do as he deems best, but at the very least I would encourage him to report this incident to the state department of health to help get more information about this incident and the staff’s involvement.

Legal obligation of staff to provide supervision for wheelchair patients

If it turns out that a staff member brought Ms. Sweet outside for the fire drill and selected the area where she was placed— yet failed to engage the brake on the wheel, I would humbly suggest that this omission— as innocent as it may appear—deserves to be pursued and prosecuted. Too often, staff at facilities are never given any training themselves on how to safely use wheelchairs themselves or how patients are to be taught on how to use these apparatuses.  Medical facilities need to remember that many of the patients who are in wheelchairs may never have used one of these devices in the past and indeed need instruction about safe operation— including what they can and cannot do. By recognizing that wheelchairs are more than a device that can be used for convenience— but rather a medical device that is necessary for some patients’ safety, incidents such as this can hopefully be reduced or eliminated.

  • http://www.safetybunns.com/order.html Barb Przybylowicz

    These incidents will continue due to short staffing even with all the “bells, alarms and whistles” in place when staff is unavailable to respond.
    Sliding down/out from chairs and wheelchairs is a leading cause falls in elders and other susceptible people. Typically, sliding falls are caused by persons with leg weakness and other neurological disorders that interfere with proper
    seating and/or environmental conditions (sliding off vinyl or plastic coated
    seats).
    Safety Bunns is the first product available on the market to put a stop to
    ‘sliding out of chairs’.
    Designed to:
    • Avoid sliding out of chairs/wheelchairs.
    • Provide proper seating position and comfort while promoting safety.
    • Prevent use of physical restraints to control chair sliding.
    • Prevent caregiver injury from constantly re-positioning sliding person.
    Ideal for people with:
    • Previous chair/wheelchair falls
    • Impaired sitting balance
    • Stroke, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological impairments
    • Developmentally disabled adults and children.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1071971952 Anthony Iantosca

      There is a lot of talk a bout “restraints” in nursing homes.We have a question of semantics here. As far as I am concerned the term
    “restraint” should only be used for people who are physically and
    mentally able to move around without being at risk of injuring
    themselves and who are being limited, restricted or prevented from being
    free to move around. There is a significant difference between a
    “restraint” and a safety measure, such as a safety belt, used for a
    patient who is at risk of falling. Nowadays, a safety measure is not
    referred to as a safety measure in the majority of cases and is referred
    to as a restraint even when it isn’t, thus placing frail and elderly
    patients at risk of injury and death. I have had the misfortune of
    knowing this first hand in the case of my mother who was not able to
    walk around on her own and who was in a wheelchair or a chair when she
    was out of bed. She had repeatedly fallen from wheelchairs and chairs
    and was refused a “safety” belt because the “State” would not permit her
    wearing “restraints”, which in her case would not have been a
    restraint but a safety belt. So, because of this she fell from a
    wheelchair and died as a result of her injuries, which as far as I am
    concerned was a criminal act because it could have easily been
    prevented. As a result of these idiotic laws calling safety measures
    “restraints,” lawyers would not touch the case with a ten foot pole which
    in effect means that a nursing home can let people fall down and crack
    their skulls and die through lack of safety precautions and nothing can
    be done about it. This is absurd and criminal. Something absolutely
    should be done about this because people are dying left and right and
    nothing can be done about it because the nursing homes and doctors are
    being protected by laws which do not help people out but actually kill
    them. When the next elderly patient falls and dies from lack of safety
    measures I don’t want to hear about how many frivolous or outrageous
    lawsuits are being filed. I want to know why not more lawsuits are being
    filed and won because of lack of safety measures at nursing homes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1071971952 Anthony Iantosca

      There is a lot of talk about “restraints,” in nursing homes.We have a question of semantics here. As far as I am concerned the term
    “restraint” should only be used when talking about people who are physically and
    mentally able to move around without being at risk of injuring
    themselves and who are being limited, restricted or prevented from being
    free to move around. There is a significant difference between a
    “restraint” and a safety measure, such as a safety belt, used for a
    patient who is at risk of falling. Nowadays, a safety measure is not
    referred to as a safety measure in the majority of cases and is referred
    to as a restraint even when it isn’t, thus placing frail and elderly
    patients at risk of injury and death. I have had the misfortune of
    knowing this first hand in the case of my mother who was not able to
    walk around on her own and who was in a wheelchair or a chair when she
    was out of bed. She had repeatedly fallen from wheelchairs and chairs
    and was refused a “safety” belt even when I, as her proxy, signed for one to be placed on her, because the “State” would not permit her
    wearing “restraints”, which in her case would not have been a
    restraint but a safety belt. So, because of this she fell from a
    wheelchair and died as a result of her injuries, which as far as I am
    concerned was a criminal act, because it could have easily been
    prevented. As a result of these idiotic laws calling safety measures
    “restraints,” lawyers would not touch the case with a ten foot pole which
    in effect means that a nursing home can let people fall down and crack
    their skulls and die through lack of safety precautions and nothing can
    be done about it. This is absurd and criminal. Something absolutely
    should be done about this because people are dying left and right and
    nothing can be done about it because the nursing homes and doctors are
    being protected by laws which do not help people out but actually give them a  license to kill
    them. When the next elderly patient falls and dies from lack of safety
    measures I don’t want to hear about how many frivolous or outrageous
    lawsuits are being filed. I want to know why not more lawsuits are being
    filed and won because of lack of safety measures at nursing homes.

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