Is it Negligent for a Nursing Home to Allow a Clogged Breathing or Feeding Tube?
Nursing Homes Can, and Should, Be Held Liable for Wrongful Deaths Connected to Tube Malfunctions
Nursing homes around the country continue to struggle to offer the level of care that many patients require. Often, this is caused by a deficiency in the number of staff employed at a facility in relation to the number of patients housed there. Staff simply do not have time to attend adequately to each patient, and this lack of personalized attention can lead to easily preventable injuries or even death. Unfortunately, it is usually the highest acuity residents, like those who are on a breathing machine or tube feedings, that suffer from the neglect and facility understaffing. When nursing homes neglect their most vulnerable residents on tube feedings or oxygen machines, the results are fatal.
While many people tend to envision bedsores or dehydration as common causes of nursing home injury or fatality, one type of negligent damage comes from clogged tubes. Because nursing homes most often care for the elderly, this population is particularly susceptible to problems with tubes, since they are predominantly used to assist with breathing and feeding in older individuals.
It is the legal duty of the nursing home to ensure that breathing tubes and feeding tubes are functioning, unclogged and working properly. Allowing a breathing or feeding tube to clog and suffocate the resident is an example of nursing home negligence.
Learn Your Legal Rights Via a Nursing Home Tube Clog Wrongful Death Claim
If your loved one died due to a breathing tube or feeding tube clogging up, contact our elder abuse attorneys now at 888-375-9998. Senior Justice Law Firm has helped numerous families win nursing home clogged tube wrongful death lawsuits in the past, and we are happy to provide you a free case consultation. Our firm focus is on nursing home abuse injuries. This is all we do. Call or live chat with our office now to learn more about how we can help.
In order to understand how clogs in breathing and feeding tubes constitute negligence or abuse in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, it is important to first learn how these tubes work and why they are used, especially in the elderly population.
What Is a Breathing Tube?
A breathing tube is a type of medical device that, as its name suggests, assists an individual with breathing. There are two different types of breathing tubes, and both are found commonly in the nursing home population. The first, called an endotracheal tube, is the more temporary option and is typically only used for a few days; it may, however, be a permanent option for some individuals. Endotracheal tubes are most often inserted following a procedure that requires medical staff to assist a patient with their breathing.
An endotracheal tube is inserted through the mouth and passes through the throat and into the lungs. Patients with this type of breathing tube cannot speak, because the tube passes through their mouth and also inhibits the use of their vocal cords. This is important to note, because it means that the patient cannot express concerns with difficulty breathing, and it falls upon the nursing home staff to perform their due diligence in maintaining the tube in order to help the resident breathe.
Over time, mucous can begin to build up in the tube, and nursing home staff must regularly suction the tube to keep this buildup from inhibiting breathing. Failure to do so will result in a clog.
The other type of breathing tube is a tracheostomy tube, which is another common occurrence in nursing homes. Unlike endotracheal tubes, tracheostomy tubes are inserted through the neck instead of the mouth. This enables residents to speak, but the tube requires additional maintenance, such as using a cover over the entrance in the neck in order to keep dust and debris out of the tube. Like endotracheal tubes, tracheostomy tubes can also become clogged if not suctioned regularly.
What Is a Feeding Tube?
A feeding tube (often called an enteral tube) is in many ways similar to a breathing tube, but it serves a different function. As its name suggests, a feeding tube is used for nutrition in patients who cannot otherwise feed themselves. The cause behind this inability can stem from a variety of conditions, from brain injuries to strokes that cause partial or total paralysis.
A variety of feeding tubes may be used depending upon the patient’s specific needs, but in general, the tube will be inserted through the nose or mouth and will progress all the way through the throat and into the stomach, sometimes going as far as the intestines depending upon the doctor’s recommendation. Occasionally, patients may use a feeding tube that enters through the abdomen.
Regardless of what type of feeding tube is used, like breathing tubes, they can become clogged if not properly cared for. Feeding tube blockages are notoriously difficult to remove, which means that the most effective method of keeping residents safe from a feeding tube blockage is to prevent one from ever happening in the first place. Should a feeding tube clog occur, the resident will likely need emergency surgery, which can be very challenging and taxing on older bodies.
When Breathing and Feeding Tubes Are Used
Both breathing and feeding tubes are typically used as a last resort, when other therapeutic or medical procedures have failed to enable the person to breathe or eat on their own with enough success to continue to thrive. Breathing tubes are common in older patients as their lungs begin to degrade and cannot process oxygen as efficiently. This may be caused by a variety of conditions, from lung cancer to emphysema, or it may just result from the natural process of aging.
Feeding tubes are most often the result of muscular or neurological deficits that make eating or acquiring nutrients difficult or impossible. Strokes that result in paralysis or impede the ability to swallow are some of the most common causes of feeding tube use, as is cancer. It need not be cancer specifically of the throat or stomach; the process of combatting cancer can leave patients fatigued or nauseated in a way that inhibits eating.
Some serious illnesses require feeding tubes but do not necessarily relate to the inability to use muscles to actually consume sustenance. Individuals who have movement disorders that cause them to burn more calories than average may be unable to consume enough nutrition on their own to compensate. Others may have difficulties with nutrient absorption that make it necessary to be fed highly specialized, highly nutritious slurries through a feeding tube.
Possible Complications in Tubes Used in Nursing Home Settings
Tubes used for feeding and breathing are not simple machines that can be left alone once they are installed. They require consistent maintenance from nursing home staff to ensure that they do not become clogged, and the very process of undergoing tube insertion and adjusting to living life in that manner can be very stressful and even highly dangerous for older individuals with weakened immune systems.
In fact, only 31% of patients between the ages of 65 and 74 survive the initial tube insertion and the return home after discharge from the hospital. This number drops to 19% for those between the ages of 80 to 84, and individuals above 90 years of age are faced with a meager 14% chance of returning home and continuing their lives after the insertion of a tube at the hospital.
The good news is that those who can withstand the initial hospital visit can enjoy a higher quality of life than before—as long as nursing home staff continue to care for them properly. However, regularly cleaning both feeding and breathing tubes takes time, which is a commodity in low supply for many nursing home staff who are overworked and responsible for an unreasonable number of patients.
The best method for preventing clogging in a feeding tube is to regularly flush the tube with water, both before and after eating. Unfortunately, the most common practice—in an effort to make the process as efficient as possible—is simply to insert the liquid food into the tube and call the feeding complete. A more thorough feeding would include flushing the feeding tube with 30mL of water before feeding and again after the food has been delivered. Flushing should also occur in between each medication given.
If a feeding tube becomes clogged, it inhibits the delivery of vital nutrients to the resident and can result in dehydration, malnutrition, starvation, and even death.
Breathing tubes should be suctioned once in the morning and once before the resident goes to bed. Additional suctioning should be done whenever the resident cannot breathe as easily as before or after every respiratory therapy or treatment. If breathing tubes become clogged with mucous, air can no longer pass effectively into the lungs, which can cause suffocation and death. Even a partially occluded tube can result in low blood oxygenation that leads to a variety of serious health conditions.
Failure to properly maintain, clean and suction tubes will result in wrongful death. Ignoring a feeding tube or breathing tube is a form of nursing home neglect and can lead to a viable civil lawsuit for nursing home tube maintenance negligence.
Previous Cases of Breathing and Feeding Tube Negligence
Cases of breathing and feeding tubes clogging as a result of nursing home negligence are not particularly rare. Mr. David Covelski passed away just nine days after admission as the result of a clogged breathing tube at Rose of Sharon Manor in Roseville, MN following numerous complaints of difficulty breathing. In the days before his death, Mr. Covelski complained numerous times that he was struggling to breathe, and even expressly stated that he believed his breathing tube was clogged. Staff also failed to perform emergency procedures, including CPR, when Mr. Covelski began to experience respiratory failure. The Minnesota Department of Health ruled his death the result of negligence.
Hixson-based nursing home New Beginnings Care LLC in Tennessee saw a similar lawsuit when one resident was hospitalized multiple times for clogs in both his feeding and breathing tubes, resulting in a $1 million award for the family. He was also experiencing a severe bedsore on his back and numerous infections that aligned with the lawsuit’s allegations of continued abuse and negligence. Chattanooga’s bankruptcy court examined the nursing home’s financial situation and determined that chronic understaffing was used to maximize profits, allowing the facility’s operators and their families to pay themselves approximately one million dollars.
Negligence and abuse related to clogged feeding and breathing tubes can happen anywhere—even the nursing homes with the best reviews. However, data continues to show that the highest incidence of these issues remains at for-profit nursing homes that maintain at least 100 beds. These facilities are most likely to be severely understaffed in order to cut costs and maximize profits. Non-profit nursing homes tend to see better health outcomes, not only because they employ more staff but because they contain fewer beds overall, leading to increased attention paid to each resident.
When Legal Representation Is Needed for a Clogged Tube Lawsuit Against a Nursing Home
Because the overall health outcomes for those with breathing and feeding tubes are already generally poor, it can be difficult to understand whether your loved one’s injury or even death was the result of negligence or abuse, or whether it was simply the immense strain placed upon the body when receiving a tube. It is important that you compile as much information as you can. If you visited your loved one in a nursing home and noticed that staff did not flush or suction tubes at mealtimes or before bed, or if your loved one was admitted to the hospital for clogged tubes, you may have a case.
However, even if you did not directly see negligence as it occurred, your family member may still have been a victim. The attorneys at Senior Justice Law Firm have years of experience in elder abuse and neglect cases and would be happy to sit down with you to review the details of your case free of charge in a personal consultation. We simplify the process of filing a lawsuit against a nursing home so that you can focus more on your family’s recovery and healing and less on the stressful details of a legal case.
Your decision to bring a lawsuit against a nursing home for clogged breathing and feeding tubes can not only secure monetary damages for your family but also penalize a nursing home, prompting it to change its methods. You can help to protect future residents.
Reach out to Senior Justice Law Firm to schedule an appointment at 888-375-9998.
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