Facility Fined $80,000 After Resident Chokes on Meatball, Dies

A convalescent hospital was fined $80,000 after a 54-year-old schizophrenic patient choked on a meatball and died. The facility had known the patient had problems swallowing, meaning the spaghetti meatball served to him should have been chopped or sliced, according to an investigation by the state department of public health.
But both the cook and the nursing assistant who served the meal failed to grind up the meatballs, as required, according to the state. "I just did not think to chop up his meat that day," the nursing assistant told state investigators.

The man stumbled out of his room, pale and unable to speak. After a nurse unsuccessfully attempted the Heimlich maneuver, paramedics were able to suction the meatball out of the man's airway, but he was pronounced dead at a hospital emergency room.

The nursing assistant and cook were immediately suspended and later fired, said a representative of the hospital. He said the cook failed to follow the directions for the patient's meal by not mashing up the meatball. He also said the nursing assistant failed to look at the meal card on the patient's tray -- which would have been a second chance to catch the error -- before serving the lunch. "Neither one did their job," he said.

The facility has one star out of a possible five on a federal rating system for nursing homes that began last year by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. For more, read the story.

This is a tragic incident and one that could have and should have been prevented. The nursing home was aware of the resident's dietary restrictions and violated its own policies. By immediately firing both employees involved, the nursing home is admitting fault and taking steps to make sure it does not happen again. Of course, that does not help this resident and his family who entrusted him to the facility's care with the understanding that they would take the easy steps necessary to prevent him from choking to death.

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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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