There are some critical care situations in which feeding tubes are ordered by doctors as a short-term solution to get nutrition to patients who are unable to eat.
It’s a relatively simple surgery, but is generally only recommended for extreme or complex conditions. However, for elderly patients and particularly those with dementia who struggle to swallow, feeding tubes have a tendency to become a longer-term answer to malnutrition.
Inserted through the abdominal wall and into the stomach, common complications of feeding tubes include diarrhea (which can in turn cause bed sores), as well as distress from having some type of foreign object in the body.
There is a fair amount of research suggesting that feeding tubes aren’t of any great benefit to those with dementia. Yet they are used for about one-third of dementia patients in nursing homes because, frankly, it’s easier for staffers.
But even if the physician believes it necessary, when feeding tubes are used routinely in a nursing home-type setting, our Montgomery wrongful death lawyers know well that there is ample opportunity for something to go wrong.
White Oak Manor v. Lexington Insurance Company stemmed from such a case.
This particular legal battle was between the nursing home and the insurance company, as the nursing home had settled the claim without the insurer’s involvement, only to turn around and try to file for compensation from the insurer. (After much back-and-forth, the state supreme court ultimately decided that the settlement was binding for the insurer and the firm would have to pay.)
But the underlying issue in the case was nursing home negligence. Staff at the nursing home was accused of improper replacement of a feeding tube. The exact details of the incident or the settlement weren’t laid bare in the the court documents of the insurance case, but we do know the patient did not die of those injuries. He was fortunate.
There have been numerous documented instances in which improper replacement of feeding tubes resulted in wrongful death. For example, in Virginia several years ago, a nursing home patient died several days after his feeding tube was improperly placed by a nurse. The tube, which was reportedly quite new, became dislodged. Rather than make sure an endoscopic or radiographic guide was used to help replace the tube in the absence of a mature tract (as required by appropriate medical standards), the nurse reportedly just forced the tube back inside. She didn’t confirm it was properly placed.
As it turned out, the tube had been inserted into the patient’s peritoneal cavity instead of his stomach. This resulted in painful peritonitis and sepsis, of which the patient ultimately died.
These kinds of lapses in care are unacceptable.
A study by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, chronicled recently by The New York Times, found that feeding tubes don’t necessarily prolong life in patients with advanced dementia, and what’s more, most nursing home patients surveyed say they would rather die than live with a feeding tube.
The study authors recommended that rather than feeding tubes, elderly individuals be engaged in “comfort feeding,” which is continuing to feed carefully by hand, offering only as much as they want and stopping if they become agitated or start choking. However, nursing home agencies are so understaffed, we doubt that such practices will gain widespread acceptance anytime soon.
Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a wrongful death attorney in Montgomery today.
White Oak Manor v. Lexington Insurance Company, Jan. 15, 2015, South Carolina Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Bell v. Dawson and Establishing Alabama Duty of Care, Dec. 26, 2013, Montgomery Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog