Facility Fined for Failing to Perform the Heimlich on a Choking Resident

A nursing home was issued an $80,000 fine and the most severe penalty under state law after an investigation determined that a nurse's failure to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a patient resulted in his death.  According to the report issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, the facility, "failed to provide the necessary services to prevent harm when staff failed to promptly respond to a life-threatening situation". 

The man's medical records indicate that he was admitted to the facility with diagnoses including Alzheimer's and dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing. On the day of his death, at 5:30 p.m. a certified nurse assistant (CNA) was feeding the man his dinner of puréed food when he began coughing, according to the report. While the man gasped for air and became distressed, staff members thought the man was choking on food, yet no immediate attempt was made to perform abdominal thrusts to clear his airway.

The facility staff told investigators they called emergency dispatchers promptly at 5:30 p.m., but records indicate that is was not until  5:49 p.m. that the call was made. When paramedics arrived the man was already dead. The facility had assessed the man as a high risk for aspiration due to difficulty of swallowing. The report also indicated that the man had a no-CPR order; however, state investigators concluded that a no-CPR order did not preclude the performance of abdominal thrusts as done during a Heimlich maneuver. For more, read the story.


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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