State Fines Nursing Home $75,000 After Choking Death Which Was Reported as Heart Attack

A state fined a nursing home $75,000 in the case of an elderly man whose death was reported for months as a heart attack – although he really choked on a tuna sandwich.

State documents show that the nursing home initially claimed the victim died of a heart attack and did not disclose the sandwich incident until three months later – after the coroner concluded the resident choked to death. The victim was supposed to receive only pureed foods.

An attorney for the skilled nursing center said the facility launched a second investigation after the autopsy and only then learned that the resident had grabbed a sandwich from a food tray.

"Apparently there was one person who had information who we were unaware of," she said. The center is appealing the fine.

According to state documents, the resident, suffering from dementia, had two choking incidents on the night of his death, Sept. 9, 2008. In the first incident, the patient was inadvertently given the wrong diet, although he had a history of swallowing problems. Later that evening, the victim was left near a food cart, where he grabbed the sandwich and began to eat.

He died within an hour. State papers say staff at the nursing center did not try to clear his throat, check him for aspiration or provide emergency treatment. Please see the complete 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. Furthermore, it stood by and allowed him to choke to death without rendering aid, presumably because it appeared to be a heart attack. This shows an utter lack of medical training on the part of the staff that was present that day.

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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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