Aspiration Pneumonia Death Lawsuit

Madden v. Forest Hill Health and Rehabilitation Center

Men in distressThis is a nursing home neglect wrongful death suit brought by surviving family members against Forest Health and Rehabilitation Center, a nursing home in Harford County. The crux of this case is a failure to diagnose and treat a fluid buildup in his lungs that led to aspiration pneumonia.

This claim was filed in the Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office on January 8th, 2018. This is the 12th medical malpractice suit filed in Maryland in 2018. It is the first malpractice lawsuit filed this year that will be heard in Hartford County.

Summary of Plaintiff's Allegations

In December 2014, an 82-year-old patient is transferred from a local hospital to the defendant health and rehabilitation center. He is transferred for in-patient therapy to treat muscle deterioration after hospitalization for a rash-related illness. The patient has a pre-existing history of pulmonary hypertension and coronary artery disease, which puts him at greater risk for congestive heart failure and pneumonia.

In January 2015, the patient is diagnosed with a lower extremity edema (swelling of the feet and legs from an abnormal accumulation of fluid). He is administered Lasix, a medication that treats fluid buildup. Three days later, the patient exhibits a cough which worsens over several days. The defendant gives the patient Mucinex (an over the counter cough medication) and doubles his dosage of Lasix.

On January 12, the patient is diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection of the lungs. Five days later, the patient's non-productive cough and weakened pulse are noted by a treating doctor and he is sent for a chest x-ray. The patient is also placed on nebulizer treatments every six hours to aid his breathing.

The patient is eventually diagnosed with pneumonia and pleural effusions (a buildup of fluid in the area surrounding the lungs). On the date of the patient's death, his condition deteriorates after approximately seven hours. Allegedly, a nurse practitioner does not respond to the patient when signs of distress became clear until five minutes later. His cause of death is determined to be aspiration pneumonia.

Case Analysis
  • Aspiration pneumonia is a specific type of pneumonia that occurs when a foreign material is inhaled by the patient. The suit does not explain what exactly caused the patient's aspiration pneumonia. Common causes include food/drunk, saliva or nasal secretions. Aspiration may cause death by blocking the airway or by creating a fatal respiratory tract infection.

  • In addition to pulmonary hypertension and coronary artery disease, the patient had a history of diabetes and a seizure disorder. He had also undergone a coronary artery bypass grafting procedure.

  • The complaint states that the patient was in obvious distress shortly before his death but that a staff member took "as long as five full minutes" to respond to the emergency. In a nursing home setting, there are often healthcare providers without meaningful training.

  • The complaint also emphasizes the fact that the patient died 36 hours after a single chest x-ray had been performed. The plaintiffs are arguing that a diagnostic should have been done earlier given the patient's medical history and symptoms. There is no given reason why the defendants didn't think an x-ray was indicated or why they waited so long to send for one.

  • Overall, the plaintiffs' allegations against the defendant suggest a pattern of neglect or carelessness that isn't specific to any one instance or individual employee. Although not a factor in his illness/death, the complaint notes that the speech therapy that was ordered for the patient. The plaintiffs allege there is no evidence the patient underwent speech therapy while with the defendants.

Plaintiff's Expert Witnesses

Unknown at this time.

Alleged Negligence
  • The defendant was negligent in not properly assessing and treating the patient's pneumonia, allowing it to worsen and eventually kill him.

  • The defendant failed to order indicated diagnostic studies like a chest x-ray in a timely manner.

  • The defendant neglected to consider the patient's medical history in their treatment plan, which indicated he was at risk of congestive heart failure and/or pneumonia.

  • The defendant's inability to properly supervise the patient and have staff communicate findings in a timely manner contributed to the patient's death.

Defendants

SSC Forest Hill Operating Company, LLC and Forest Hill Health and Rehabilitation Center.

Jurisdiction

Harford County

Similar Cases See Also Getting a Lawyer for Your Medical Malpractice Claim

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