The Minnesota Department of Health (“Department”) recently reported on its investigation into the death of a Minnesota nursing home resident who was on a special diet when she grabbed a sandwich because she was not properly supervised by the nursing home staff, stuffed the sandwich into her mouth, and then choked to death. The Department determined that, “Based on a preponderance of evidence, neglect did occur when a resident on a dysphagia diet was not adequately supervised and obtained solid food, choked, and died.”
The 77-year-old cognitively impaired Minnesota nursing home resident was on a pureed diet with nectar-thick liquids because of her risk of aspiration. The resident did not like her pureed diet and often threw her food onto the floor. She also had a history of sudden and unpredictable behavior, such as grabbing regular-texture food from other nursing home residents, which required that the nursing home staff keep her in their sight at all times (the resident was confined to a wheelchair but was able to move the wheelchair on her own).
In mid-November 2015, the nursing home resident was in her wheelchair in the facility’s dining room and was supposed to be subject to one-on-one supervision, which the nursing home did not define for its staff. There were three staff members in the dining room where a tray of sandwiches, shakes, pudding, and cookies was three feet away from the resident for at least ninety minutes.
The nursing home staff failed to observe the resident move her wheelchair over to the dining room table containing the food tray, where she took a sandwich from the tray, removed it from a baggie, and began eating the sandwich. It was not until the resident began choking on the sandwich that the staff became aware that she was eating a sandwich. The staff unsuccessfully performed the Heimlich maneuver, began CPR efforts, and called 911. The resident died on the way to the hospital as a result of cardiac and respiratory arrest. The resident’s death certificate stated the cause of death to be “choking (Food Bolus).”
The Department held the Minnesota nursing home responsible for the neglect of the resident based on “The facility did not have an adequate system to ensure cognitively impaired residents on dysphagia diets were adequately supervised to safeguard residents at risk for aspiration from obtaining improper food items.”
Nursing home choking deaths are all too common and most of these unnecessary deaths could have been avoided had the nursing home resident been properly evaluated for diet restrictions, had the appropriate dietary restrictions been ordered and implemented, and had the nursing home staff properly fulfilled their responsibilities to the nursing home resident.
If your loved one was in a nursing home in the United States and died or suffered serious harm due to choking on food or other items, you should promptly consult with a nursing home claim lawyer in your U.S. state who may investigate your nursing home choking death claim for you and file a nursing home death claim on your behalf, if appropriate.
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