In a health care setting, a patient fall constitutes a “never event.” According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a never event is a serious, preventable safety issue in a hospital or nursing home. Nevertheless, AHRQ reports that 50% of nursing home residents have a fall injury each year and about 33% of those individuals will fall multiple times in a single year.
Take these steps if you or a family member has experienced a fall-related injury while receiving medical care:
Request the incident report
The hospital or long-term care facility should be transparent about how the fall occurred. Older adults have an increased risk for falls because of frailty, medication side effects like dizziness, chronic health problems and weak muscles because of a sedentary lifestyle. However, falls may also result from an unsafe care environment with hazards such as wet floors or lack of supervision for patients who need it. Common examples of unsafe conditions that lead to falls include:
- Personal items kept out of the patient’s easy reach
- Damaged wheelchair brakes
- Unstable bed wheels or furniture
- Uneven floors
- Cluttered living areas
- Dim lighting
Be aware of potential health problems
Even if your loved one seems alright after a fall, he or she may develop health problems that are not immediately evident. In addition to bruises, contusions and broken bones that require emergent care, the person may experience decreased quality of life and restricted activities because of a fear of falling again. One in 10 nursing home residents who falls suffers a serious injury such as a hip fracture. These injuries often increase the incidence of premature death.
Review state laws
When the care facility played a role in your family member’s fall, he or she may be able to sue for medical malpractice. In Massachusetts, the person must file this type of lawsuit within three years of the incident or from the date when he or she discovered that a serious injury resulted from the fall.