Another Nursing Home Resident Allowed to Choke to Death?

Logo image showing teh words Symphony of Morgan Park

Symphony of Morgan Park is being sued for allegedly allowing a resident to choke to death on hard candy. (Image from their website.)

The Chicago Tribune reported on yet another nursing home choking death leading to a lawsuit, involving a blind resident who choked to death on hard candy:

Christine Young, an 89-year-old resident of Symphony of Morgan Park, 10935 S. Halsted St., died March 25, 2015, after choking on a piece of peppermint hard candy, according to a wrongful death lawsuit Young’s niece and the executor of her estate brought against the nursing home March 23.

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Young had lived at Symphony for just over five months at the time of her death. The suit claims that nursing home administrators and staff should have known that she required supervision and “extensive assistance” with daily activities, like eating, because she was at risk for choking.”

Should a nursing home be responsible when a resident chokes to death?

It depends.

Nursing homes—in Ohio, and everywhere—are required to assess resident care needs, which includes how much assistance they need with eating safely.  That could include things like a person who can feed themselves, but needs reminders to keep eating, a person who needs to be fed with utensils because they do not have the strength of dexterity to feed themselves, or someone who needs special foods and to be observed to avoid choking.

Then nursing homes are required to provide that care.

If this woman was a known choking risk—or the nursing home should have known she was at risk of choking—with things like hard candy, the nursing home should not have allowed her to obtain hard candies and eat them alone.

When we investigate nursing home choking deaths, step one is to find out what happened, and why.  Then we can evaluate whether the nursing home made careless mistakes that led to the choking death in the nursing home.

That could be failing to properly evaluate a resident’s needs to prevent choking, or not providing the care they know she needs to avoid choking.

We see lots of careless mistakes in our cases, often by the front-line nursing staff caring for residents.  But we do not sue the nurses directly.  Why?  Because usually the nursing staff wants to do a good job.  They’re in a tough job and are doing it because they want to help people.

The problem is, they’re asked to do the impossible, caring for too many people who need too much help.

It’s the corporations running the nursing homes—and making all the money—that are intentionally understaffing the facilities.  Just look at the nursing home staffing levels where this death occurred:

Chart showing various staffing level measures for this nursing home, Illinois averages, and national averages

This is a severely understaffed nursing home according to data on Medicare’s nursing home compare. Choking deaths are the type of injury you would expect at a facility with too few nursing staff.

That’s why things that should never happen, do.  Like a resident who needs help eating safely being left alone and dying.  There just aren’t enough nursing staff to stay with them every time.  All so the nursing home parent company can make more money.

And this isn’t just one nursing home.  When I investigate a nursing home choking death or other neglect or abuse, I dig into the corporate structure.  Public records suggest the company that owns this nursing home, “Symcare Healthcare, LLC,” has at least 9 other nursing homes:

  1. Symphony of Buffalo Grove (150 North Weiland Road Buffalo Grove, IL 60089)
  2. Symphony of Bronzeville (3400 South Indiana Chicago, IL 60616)
  3. Symphony of Lincoln Park (1366 West Fullerton Avenue Chicago, IL 60614)
  4. Symphony of Chicago West (5130 West Jackson Boulevard Chicago, IL 60644)
  5. Symphony of South Shore (2425 East 71st Street Chicago, IL 60649)
  6. Symphony at 87th Street (2940 West 87th Street Chicago, IL 60652)
  7. Symphony at Midway (4437 South Cicero Chicago, IL 60632)
  8. Symphony of Hanover Park (2000 West Lake Street Hanover Park, IL 60133)
  9. Symphony at Aria (4600 North Frontage Road Hillside, IL 60162)

Want to bet whether the other locations are understaffed, too?  I know how I’d bet.  I dig into this type of data to determine whether an understaffed nursing home is a one-location problem, or a chain-wide one.

Have you ever experienced nursing home understaffing leading to injuries like choking?  Are you an overworked nursing staff member pulled too many ways?  Comment below, or contact us using the contact form at the bottom.

You can read the entire article from the Tribune here:

Do you have questions about a possible abuse, neglect, stroke, or heart attack case? Contact us now using this confidential form. Or leave a comment below--but remember the comments are public, not confidential.

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