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Nursing Homes Phase Out Resident Alarms

Resident bed alarmNursing home residents have the right – under federal and state law – to be free from restraints both physical and chemical. To prevent falls, at-risk residents are typically given alarms so they can request help when they need to get up. The nursing home injury lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report on a troubling new effort to remove alarms from residents’ rooms nationwide.

When someone enters a nursing home, staff must identify his or her risk of falling and create a care plan to prevent falls and other injuries. This plan can include many different interventions, from alarms to mats to special beds.

Alarms go off when a resident gets up from their wheelchair or bed to use the bathroom or needs some other type of help. Nursing homes in the United States are terrifyingly understaffed, and alarms are one of the few resources residents have to get the help they need when there isn’t enough staff to go around.

Alarm-Free Nursing Homes

There’s a troubling nationwide movement to eliminate resident alarms, based on questionable research and deceptive intentions.

Oakwood Village Prairie Ridge Nursing Home in Madison, Wisconsin is one example. Rather than rely on alarms to help residents, Oakwood staff is now expected to learn residents’ routines so they can anticipate when each resident will need help. This method is based on memorization of a resident’s behavior, as if anyone follows the exact same movements every single day.  

Despite the lack of data or common sense proving this to be effective, most nursing homes in Wisconsin have made similar changes, making effort to become “alarm-free.” Some facilities claim they’ve changed bathroom schedules, rearranged rooms, monitor residents more often, and tell residents exactly when nurses will be back to check on them.

Facilities claim alarms don’t keep residents safer, but distract nurses, disturb sleep, and often restrict residents from completing tasks they could do themselves. They claim staff aren’t able to respond to alarms quickly enough, and research doesn’t prove alarms prevent falls or injuries. This research isn’t solid, to say the least.

Every year nearly 2,000 residents die from fall-related injuries. This is a serious problem, and nursing homes certainly aren’t hiring more staff to properly take care of residents. Most facilities are run by for-profit corporations, interested in making money and pleasing stockholders. Hiring more and better staff isn’t part of their plan. So what’s the new strategy? And what's the real reason they're eliminating alarms?

Alarms = Legal Liability

Alarms serve a greater purpose beyond alerting staff to immediate needs. Understaffed or poorly-run nursing homes often neglect or even abuse residents, leading to frequent falls, bedsores, dehydration, and malnutrition. The only way to prove staff is neglecting, abusing, or mistreating residents is to go through nurses’ notes, medical records, and other official documents to pinpoint exactly when and how a resident was hurt.

If their alarm was going off for hours to no response, and a resident falls on his or her way to the bathroom, their medical records should clearly state these facts. It would be documented that staff ignored the resident’s repeated calls for help and the facility would be legally responsible for the injuries and medical bills the resident suffers.

Legal liability is, unfortunately, the only way to hold poorly run nursing homes accountable for their bad practices. They will try everything they can to avoid wrongful injury and death lawsuits, from forced arbitration to eliminating forms of evidence.

Our nursing home injury lawyers have been representing injured residents and their families for over 30 years. Far too many residents suffer fractures, concussions, and brain bleeds from preventable falls, and we urge nursing homes to take legitimate measures to reduce these events. Eliminating one of residents’ only safety nets seems counter-intuitive at best, and fatally dangerous at worst.

Families should look out for letters from nursing homes about any plans to become “alarm-free.” Families can request that alarms remain part of their loved ones care plans. Residents in later stages of dementia are more likely to fall, as are those with gait or sight conditions.

We fight on behalf of residents’ rights nationwide, and never charge our clients out-of-pocket. Our reviews are always free, confidential, and we can travel to all 50 states to help guide you through the process of filing a claim and holding nursing homes accountable.

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