Patients in Hospitals and Hospitals Need Protection from Falls

February 6, 2013

Your parent or other loved one is admitted to a hospital or nursing home because they are ill, or have been injured. They are there because they need assistance or care that they can’t get in their home.  Unfortunately, many times patients in hospitals and nursing homes aren’t given the attention they need, and suffer injuries because of malpractice or negligence in their hospital or medical care.

Another common concern for hospitalized patients is posed by the risk of falls.  Patients are often disoriented, weak or sedated. Common issues associated with nurses and hospitals are falls due to the lack of the use of rails or supervision during transfers. An elderly confused patient, or a patient narcotized with pain medicine or sedatives, requires full length side rails up so they can’t fall out of bed.

Rails can be important aids in the protection of patients who may be combative, uncooperative or unstable patient. The failure to use rails appropriately may be the basis for a negligence claim.  If the nurses’ notes show they did not raise the side rails, or if witnesses establish that the rails were not raised, and the patient falls out of bed and injures himself, those injuries may have been the result of negligence on the part of the hospital and the nurses. Physicians may also be responsible if the doctor was aware that the patient needed the protections afforded by side rails, but failed to order that they be used.

Nurses have an independent duty to ensure the safety of their patients, so you should look to examine the conduct of all three potential causes for the injury: the nurse, the hospital and the doctor. Nurses are trained, and need to be able to determine for themselves whether or not their patients need side rails.  If they do, they can and must follow good nursing practice and hospital policy and raise the rails themselves, even without a doctor’s order. In fact, the question of when to use side rails is or should be indicated in the hospital rules of almost every hospital, as set forth by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAH). If the hospital accepts elderly Medicare-insured patients, that hospital must be certified by the JCAH, and the JCAH states that with elderly, confused, or drugged patients, side rails must be used.

Were the Nurses Too Busy?

Sometimes, the nurses are just too busy to give their patients the care they need.  Consider whether there was an emergency that required their attention to other patients.  Maybe their unit was understaffed. Through the litigation process known as “discovery”, we can find this information, and obtain the “nursing orders” in effect for all the patients on that nursing unit (floor or ward) and their diagnoses. If the nursing unit was understaffed by a hospital looking to make higher profits from lower labor costs, it’s often easy to see why patients fail to receive the nursing and hospital care they need.

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