Demented Patient Dies After Drinking Chemical Floor Cleaner; Roanoke Area Nursing Home Settles

A demented hospice patient of a Roanoke area nursing home was permitted to gain access to and ingest a chemical floor stripper.  The nursing home knew in the months, weeks, and days before the ingestion that the patient's judgment and decision-making were impaired and that he had poor awareness of his own safety.  The nursing home also knew the patient was disoriented, confused, experienced memory problems, was unaware of safety precautions and his own limitations, had poor reasoning skills, and lacked simple problem-solving skills.  The day before the incident, the nursing home twice documented the patient was very confused.  

At the time of the ingestion, the nursing home left the chemical unsecured in the patient area in a one gallon container.  The nursing home's staff apparently intended to mix and dilute the chemical in the patient area.  The container of the chemical did not have a safety lid, was not kept in the possession of staff at all times, was not kept in a locked container, and was not otherwise secured.  In addition, neither the patient, the chemical, nor the area around the chemical was supervised.  The nursing home also did not have any policies or procedures in place to protect its patients from dangerous chemicals in resident areas. 

As a result of the chemical ingestion, the patient was taken to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a chemical airway burn.  The chemical burn blistered the patient's lips and caused swelling in his throat.  The patient was also documented to be spitting up blood-tinged frothy sputum.  He was placed on steroids to decrease laryngeal edema and was administered antibiotics.  As a result of the laryngeal edema, the patient's larynx could not properly elevate and his airway was left open, which increased his risk of aspirating.  The patient had a prior history of partial lung removal.  He was therefore placed at a significantly higher risk of cardiac and respiratory complications arising from the injury.  The patient was not permitted to consume food or fluids by mouth for several days in the hospital, and only then was authorized to consume only small sips of liquid.  He remained unable to take oral medications. 

While at the hospital, the patient was documented to have experienced significant pain during swallowing.  Speech professionals recommended a Modified Barium Swallow Study (MBSS) because pharyngeal damage and swelling resulted from penetration and aspiration.  The patient was placed on morphine for pain.  Based on the patient's declining condition, he was discharged back to the nursing home under the care of hospice services.  While at the nursing home, the patient continued to decline.  He received Roxanol (morphine) for pain, restlessness, and shortness of breath.  The patient died within one week of the ingestion incident. 

The patient's family claimed the nursing home did not properly secure the chemical and supervise the patient.  The family also claimed the nursing home should have implemented formal policies and procedures long before the event to ensure chemical and patient safety at the facility.  The patient's family contended the patient's death resulted directly from ingestion of the chemical floor stripper.   The nursing home contended the patient's death resulted from pre-existing cardiac and respiratory failure.  The nursing home also highlighted that prior to the chemical ingestion, the patient's physician documented his life expectancy was less than six months.  We were able to obtain a very generous settlement for the patient's family. 
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Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.

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