The Impact of Slip and Fall Accidents in Nursing Homes
Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran
While slip and fall accidents can cause injuries to anyone, healthy young people often sustain only minor injuries, if any at all, and usually fully recover quickly. However, for an elderly individual like a nursing home resident, a slip and fall accident has a much higher risk of causing severe injuries like brain bleeds, broken hips, or death.
Most slip and fall accidents in nursing homes are preventable. The slip and fall lawyers at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C., understand this and are ready to represent your loved one. We will review the facts in your case and work tirelessly to obtain the compensation you and your family deserve.
The Prevalence of Slip and Fall Accidents in Nursing Homes
A slip and fall accident occurs when someone trips, slips, stumbles, and then falls. While they typically result in recoverable injuries for the average population, nursing home residents are older adults and at greater risk of severe injuries or death.
Both the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and the CDC state that falls are the leading cause of non-fatal and fatal injuries among all older Americans.
- Over 1 in 4 elderly adults (65 or older) fall annually.
- Only 6.5% of elderly adults in the United States live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Despite that, older adult falls are twice as common in nursing homes as those living in the community.
- Approximately 1.5 falls occur for each nursing home bed annually. Between 10% to 25% of these falls result in severe injuries, fractures, and hospitalizations.
- Approximately 35% of all nursing home fall injuries occur to residents who cannot walk.
- According to one study, nearly 2 in 3 nursing home falls occur in the resident’s room, and almost 1 in 2 result in an injury. Falls during the evening are more likely to result in serious injuries than daytime falls.
- Individuals with hearing loss are at a higher risk of falling. 70% to 90% of all nursing home residents are estimated to have some degree of hearing impairment. On average, adults with mild hearing loss (about 25 decibels) are 3 times more likely to fall, and every 10 decibels of hearing loss multiplies the risk by 1.4.
Potential Causes of Slip and Fall Accidents in Nursing Homes
A slip and fall accident in nursing homes typically occurs due to environmental hazards, mobility uses, improper equipment usage, or inadequate supervision. Most causes of slip and fall accidents in nursing homes are preventable.
An environmental hazard is an obstruction or change in the physical condition of the nursing home facility that increases the risk of an accident.
- Wet and slippery floors. Water spills, floors being cleaned or waxed, condensation, or rainwater on walkways can create slippery surfaces, increasing the risk of slipping and falling.
- Poor lighting. Poorly lit rooms, common areas, hallways, and walkways can increase the risk of an accident, especially for residents with vision impairments. Inadequate or insufficient lighting can hide obstacles, steps, uneven surfaces, and other hazards.
- Uneven surfaces. Irregularities in walking surfaces can increase the risk of a nursing home resident falling and injuring themselves. Examples include uneven transitions between flooring types, bumps, holes, dips, loose or torn carpet, and broken tiles.
- Cluttered or obstructed walkways. A cluttered walkway reduces the safe, walkable space and creates obstacles that residents may not see, increasing the risk of a slip and fall.
- Lack of handrails. Handrails are an essential safety feature that should be available to all nursing home residents in their rooms, bathrooms, and along hallways and stairs. The lack of handrails prevents residents from stabilizing themselves if they slip or trip, increasing the risk of them receiving a serious injury.
Mobility and Health Issues
Nursing home residents may have various health conditions and mobility issues. Each issue can increase risk factors related to slip and fall incidents.
- Mobility issues. Almost 90% of nursing home residents are affected by mobility issues commonly associated with aging. Examples include muscle weakness, slower reaction times, limited flexibility, and conditions like arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.
- Medications. Many medications commonly administered by nursing homes can impair residents’ cognitive functions or balance. They include sedatives, anti-hypertensives, antidepressants, and painkillers, especially opioids and benzodiazepines.
- Cognitive impairments. The most common cognitive impairments among nursing home residents include Alzheimer’s disease, delirium, and vascular dementia. They can cause confusion and memory loss, impair judgment or reasoning, and increase the risk of slip and fall incidents by up to 20 times.
- Visual and auditory impairments. Poor vision can make it more difficult for nursing home residents to see obstacles and dangerous floors. Impaired hearing can limit their ability to hear auditory cues of a danger or staff members.
Inadequate Staffing and Supervision
Insufficient or inadequately trained nursing home staff can contribute to higher accident rates, including slips and falls. They include the following risk factors:
- Delayed response to incidents. Less staff means facilities respond more slowly to issues and incidents, such as spilled fluids, clean-up, or responding to resident calls. Delays can increase the risk of a slip and fall.
- Inadequate resident monitoring. Without enough staff members to supervise their residents, a facility may lose sight of some of its members, who may be in danger of slipping and falling.
- Insufficient training. Poorly trained staff may lack the skills to transfer residents in and out of beds, chairs, and around obstacles. These factors can increase the risk of a resident falling or being dropped.
Inadequate Safety Measures and Policies
Nursing home facilities can be responsible for slip and fall incidents through inadequate policies, rules, or safety measures. Examples include:
- Ineffective staff communication. Nursing home staff members require communication protocols to communicate risk factors and resident needs to one another.
An example of a common communication protocol is the Situation-Background-Assessment-Recommendation (SBAR) method. These protocols are necessary for residents to receive the needed support, increasing fall risks.
- Out-of-date safety protocols. Neglecting to revise safety protocols in a facility could overlook new medical or environmental hazards, leading to slips and falls. For instance, in a nursing home where common areas are cleaned at a specific time, old safety guidelines might not require displaying wet floor signs or providing alternative routes to avoid wet areas.
- Insufficient or no fall prevention programs. Without access to fall prevention training materials, a nursing home’s staff may be unprepared to protect residents from slip and fall incidents.
The Consequences of Slip and Fall Accidents in Nursing Homes
When nursing home residents fall, the potential consequences extend beyond injuries. Falls can affect patients psychologically, increase their medical needs, and lead to poorer quality of life.
The most immediate risks to nursing home residents after a slip and fall accident are physical injuries, including:
- Fractures. While all fractures are severe injuries, hip fractures are among the most common and most dangerous to residents. They require the longest recovery times and can lead to skeletal diseases, chronic pain, and complications due to immobilization.
- Head and spinal injuries. Victims of slip and fall accidents may receive impacts to the head, back, and spine, with a risk of paralysis or traumatic brain injury (TBI). Falls are the leading cause (51%) of TBI-related hospitalizations and fatalities among older adults.
- Cuts, bruises, and sprains. Falls commonly result in bruises, abrasions, cuts, and sprained joints. Their severity varies depending on the circumstances of the fall.
Increased Medical Complications
Even if a resident receives minor or benign injuries after a fall, it can still result in medical complications that may include:
- Increased risk of falling. One of the major risks after a fall is the risk of falling again. One study has determined that individuals aged 65 or older who fell in the past year are 2.3 to 2.8 times more likely to fall again. Recurring falls can compound medical problems, worsen existing injuries, and increase the risk of needing surgery or urgent medical care.
- Infections. Cuts and bruises after a fall can result in wound infections, particularly in unclean environments. If the patient requires hospitalization, they may be exposed to surgical infections or urinary tract infections (UTIs) caused by a catheter.
- Immobilization complications. Severe injuries after a fall can leave a nursing home resident immobilized in bed for long periods. It exposes them to bedsores, respiratory problems, blood clots, muscle atrophy, and joint stiffness.
Psychological and Quality of Life Impact
Falls can be traumatizing experiences for nursing home residents, with a high risk of losing autonomy and quality of life. Psychological and quality of life (QoL) consequences of a slip and fall include:
- Fear and anxiety. Nursing home residents may be afraid of falling again and move less often than they used to or rely more often on staff members.
- Social isolation. The fear of falling can make residents withdrawn and avoid social interactions and physical activity. It can exacerbate other physical and mental risk factors like depression.
- PTSD risk. Fall incidents can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if residents don’t receive adequate psychological support. In a 2014 study, 27% of examined nursing home residents experienced substantial posttraumatic stress syndromes after a fall.
- Financial risks. Slip and fall accidents may lead to higher healthcare expenses for residents. Medical treatment, physical therapy, counseling, and extended care costs can impose financial burdens on residents with limited budgets.
Measures to Prevent Slip and Fall Accidents in Nursing Homes
Nursing homes can implement multiple measures and policy changes to protect their residents’ safety and limit the risk of slip and fall accidents. They include the following:
Staff Training and Accountability
Nursing home staff must receive adequate training and education to prevent falls among residents and respond to emergencies quickly. Examples of training courses and materials include:
- Risk identification and prevention techniques, such as recognizing when a resident is about to fall and proper handling techniques
- Routine emergency response drills to refresh the staff’s ability to respond to falls quickly and efficiently.
- Regular feedback loop on the staff’s ability to follow all applicable safety and health protocols
Implementing Safety Measures in the Environment
Ensuring the nursing home’s interior and exterior environments are safe for residents to walk reduces the risk of falls.
- Regular inspections and maintenance to prevent hazards such as loose carpets or wet floors
- Installing improvements, such as better lighting, anti-slip flooring surfaces, and handrails
- Continuous safety measures like clearing corridors and walkways or arranging furniture to maximize safety
Personal Care and Attention to Individual Risks
Nursing home personnel are responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of each resident. Proper personal care can play a major role in preventing slip and fall incidents.
- Assessing each resident’s fall risks and customizing care plans around them
- Monitoring medication dosages and supervising residents who may have their balance impaired by medications
- Providing access to appropriate footwear and mobility aids, such as walkers and wheelchairs
Are Nursing Homes Liable for Falls?
Nursing homes are facilities that must provide round-the-clock care for residents with various impairments and health conditions. They have a duty to provide reasonable care to their residents. Failing to provide adequate care can be considered negligence, which makes them liable for your loved one’s injuries after a fall.
To prove the nursing home’s negligence in a slip and fall accident, you must establish the following:
- Breach of duty. Demonstrating that the nursing home was responsible for providing care to your loved one and failed to meet its obligations. Examples of evidence include inadequate staffing, training standards, or poor maintenance.
- Causation. Establishing a link between the breach of duty and the fall. Proving the breach of duty resulted in your loved one slipping and falling.
- Damages. To show that your loved one’s life has been negatively impacted by the fall, you can document their physical injuries, psychological effects, and diminished quality of life.
Eileen Kroll, our nurse attorney, combines her expertise as a registered nurse with extensive experience in medical negligence cases. If you believe your loved one has suffered injuries due to a nursing home’s negligence, Eileen brings years of experience in the legal and medical field to tirelessly advocate for your family and ensure you receive the maximum compensation you deserve.
Ensuring Your Loved One’s Safety in a Nursing Home
At Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C., our lawyers boast decades of collective experience managing slip and fall accidents in nursing homes throughout Michigan. Should your loved one suffer a slip and fall injury under a nursing home’s care, we can help you build a strong case and aggressively advocate for your interests.
Our contingency fee basis means we only get paid if we win your case, so there is no financial risk to you to get started. Call our law firm today at 1-866-MICH-LAW and schedule your no-obligation, free case evaluation.
Disclaimer : The information provided is general and not for legal advice. The blogs are not intended to provide legal counsel and no attorney-client relationship is created nor intended.