Tag Archives: nursing home

Program Reduces Use of Antipsychotics & Improves Resident’s Quality of Life

By ThinkReliability Staff

Although the use of antipsychotic drugs for nursing home residents suffering from dementia can increase their risk of death and falls, they are still prescribed for nearly 300,000 nursing home residents across the U.S. The “Nursing Home Patients Bill of Rights” allows their use only under specific conditions: “psychoactive drugs (including antipsychotics as well as drugs for depression and anxiety) may be administered only on the orders of a physician and only as part of a written plan designed to eliminate or modify the symptoms for which the drugs are prescribed. Such drugs may be given only if, at least annually, an independent, external consultant reviews the appropriateness of the drug plan of each resident receiving such drugs.”

Despite the risk of these drugs, and the requirement that their use be continually reviewed, some nursing home residents are given antipsychotic prescriptions and are never taken off them. In 2009, the staff of a small nursing home decided to embark on a program to reduce the use of antipsychotics. It was so successful that they extended the program to all the nursing homes owned by the nonprofit Ecumen. After the first year, antipsychotic use was reduced 97%. At the original facility, 5-7% of residents receive antipsychotics, compared to the national average of 19%.

The change in the residents’ quality of life was dramatic after the program was instituted. Because the residents “came alive and awakened”, they called the program Awakenings. To understand how the program works, it’s helpful to imagine the program being the solution to the problem of overuse of antipsychotics in nursing homes.

First, viewing the problem with respect to the organization’s goals can help determine what the real issue to be addressed is. In this case, resident safety and resident quality of life are two important goals of a nursing home. Resident safety is impacted by the use of antipsychotics because it increases the risk of death and the risk of falls. Resident quality of life is impacted because the use of antipsychotics was not being effectively re-evaluated as required.

The risk of increased death and falls are both related to the use of antipsychotics, which have been found to increase death in those with dementia and also increase the risk of falls. Generally the residents at the nursing home were found to have been prescribed antipsychotics as an intervention to some type of behavior resulting from the dementia (wandering, aggression, resisting care) and the resident’s need for antipsychotics was not effectively re-evaluated, so residents remained on the drugs.

A program to reduce their use had to address both of these causes. The nursing home team consulted with experts to begin weaning patients off the antipsychotics. The Awakenings process then addressed the behaviors being treated with the medication. For each resident, both the medical and personal history is taken into account while developing a care strategy. The care strategy is distributed to the entire care team, including housekeepers and cooks. The care strategy uses as many non-medication-based interventions as possible – and addresses all of the resident’s five senses. Some of the strategies include balloon volleyball, massage, aromatherapy and white noise. For those familiar with the Plan-Do-Check(Study)-Act, this is the “Plan” step.

The care plan is implemented by all staff (Do) and all staff participate in observation and assessment to monitor problem behaviors or other issues (Check/ Study). When issues do arise, the care plan is adjusted – whenever possible, without use of additional medication (Act). The process is described by the Awakenings program like this: Long-term antipsychotic use masks behavioral symptoms rather than addressing them.   Awakenings discovers unmet needs that often trigger behavioral symptoms and addresses the triggers with non-pharmacological care techniques.  This is done in collaboration with a physician to reach the optimum balance and benefit of non-pharmacological and biomedical approaches.” Although the initial setup is expensive; as Dr. Mark Lachs, chief of geriatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College says, “Behavioral interventions are far more time-consuming than giving a pill”, the staff is pleased with the results and optimistic for the future. Laurel Baxter, the Awakenings project manager says, “I believe we may learn that spending a little time now with a resident, preventing the use of psychiatric medications and their side effects, you’ll save time and money in the long run. I’m optimistic.”

To see the root cause analysis of antipsychotic overuse in a Cause Map (or visual diagram of cause-and-effect relationships) and the Awakenings process, please click on “Download PDF”.

Fire Door Falls on Dementia Patient

By ThinkReliability Staff

On November 7, 2013, during renovation taking place at a care home in Moston, Great Britain, staff responded to a cry for help, finding a resident underneath a fire door that had been removed and leaned against a wardrobe during the remodeling work.  The resident suffered a broken hip and died on December 2nd.  The management trust that operated the care home and the renovating firm were both fined under the Health and Safety at Work Act after a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the renovation area, which contained multiple hazards, had been left unlocked the night before.

According to HSE Inspector Laura Moran, “Both firms clearly knew there were vulnerable residents living at the care home but they still allowed the door to what was essentially a building site to be left unlocked on numerous occasions.”  Clearly multiple failures led to the resident’s death.  Diagramming the cause-and-effect relationships related to this issue can help clarify what happened, and offer areas for improvement.

We can perform an analysis of this incident in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis.  We begin with the impacted goals.  The patient safety goal was impacted due to the death of the patient.  In addition, the employee safety goal was impacted due to the potential for employee injury.  The fines can be considered an impact to the compliance goal and the patient services goal is impacted due to the insufficient protection provided for residents.

Beginning with an impacted goal and asking “why” questions develops the cause-and-effect relationships.  In this case, the patient death resulted from a broken hip.  The broken hip resulted from the patient being crushed under a fire door.  (It took 3 people to lift the fire door off the patient.)  The patient was crushed under the fire door because the fire door fell and the patient was in the renovation area where the fire door was located.  Both of these causes are required – had the fire door not fallen, the patient would not have been crushed, even if she was in the renovation area.  If the fire door fell but the patient was not present, the patient also would not have been crushed.  When both causes are required to produce an effect, the causes are joined by and “and” on the Cause Map.

The fire door fell as it was leaning against a wardrobe due to the renovation.  The patient, who suffered from dementia, was prone to wandering and was able to access the area under renovation because it had not been locked.  Neither the renovation firm nor the care home staff locked the area, or checked to verify that it was locked.

Other goals can be added as effects in the appropriate locations of the analysis.  For example, the patient services goal was impacted due to the insufficient protection of patients.  This occurred because the renovation area was unlocked and because the hazards in the renovation area.  (Beyond the fire door, the care home staff found exposed wiring, loose boards, and other potential safety hazards.)  The insufficient protection of patients resulted in the fine.  The impact to the employee safety goal was impacted due to the renovation area hazards as well.

Some amount of hazard always exists in construction sites – this is why hard hats are generally required.  It’s also why access to these sites is controlled.  In this case, limiting access to only those that need it was determined to be the best way to protect patients.  Because the previous process for ensuring the area was locked had failed, according to Inspector Moran, “Following the incident, the companies introduced a new procedure which meant workers had to collect and return a key at the start and end of each day, and lock the door when there was no one inside.”

The lessons learned from this tragedy are applicable not only to the specific situation of care homes undergoing renovation but to all those who have a need to protect a vulnerable population or limit access to a hazardous site to ensure safety.  Simple things like making sure doors are locked at the end of the day may save a life.


Woman Dies After Neck Trapped Between Mattress and Bed Rail

By ThinkReliability Staff

On January 26, 2013, a nursing home resident died of positional asphyxiation after her neck became trapped between her bed’s mattress and a bed rail.  The nursing home was cited for neglect by the state for not evaluating whether or not the use of a bed rail is appropriate.

The cause-and-effect relationships that led to the resident’s death can be diagrammed in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis.  This allows all the issues related to the incident to be examined so that as many potential solutions as possible can be considered, increasing healthcare reliability.

The first step in the Cause Mapping method is to capture the what, when, and where of the incident, as well as the impacts to the organization’s goals.  A nursing home’s goals include ensuring residents’ safety,  employees’ safety, residents’ quality of life, and compliance with regulatory and other accrediting agencies.  In this case, the resident safety goal was impacted because of the resident death.  The resident quality of life was impacted because there was no assessment performed to ensure the use of bed rails was appropriate.  Because that assessment was not performed, the facility was fined by the state Health Department.  Additionally, the compliance goal was impacted because both the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and The Joint Commission prohibit the use of bed rails when used as restraints.  CMS also will not reimburse for treatment for injuries related to the use of bed rails.

Beginning with an impacted goal, asking “Why” questions aids in developing the cause-and-effect relationships that resulted in the impact to the goal.  In this case, the resident death was caused by positional asphyxiation because the resident’s neck was caught between her bed rail and mattress.  The asphyxiation also resulted from the resident not being found immediately.  In this case, there were forty minutes between the last nursing check and when the resident was discovered.

The resident’s neck was caught because she was unable to free herself due to limited mobility and dementia and the use of bed rails.  In this case, as previously noted, an assessment to determine whether the use of the bed rail was appropriate had not been performed.   Presumably the bed rail was used because of the resident’s history of falls. Despite research that the risks outweigh the benefits when using bed rails as restraints (as opposed to mobility aids for residents who are cognitively and physically able), the FDA has stopped short of requiring a safety label on bed rails.

The nursing home involved in this incident has provided an approved plan to reduce the risks of this type of incident recurring.  Beyond that particular facility, states Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger,  “As a result of this death, we want all health settings where bed rails are used to take immediate steps to make sure they are following the correct guidelines around bed rails, grab bars and other devices.”

To view the Outline and Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here to read more about the use of bed rails and associated risks.

11 Patients Killed in Nursing Home Fire

by ThinkReliability Staff

A fire broke out in the early morning hours of November 18, 2011 at a residential aged care facility in Sydney, Australia.  At least 11 residents died as a direct result of the fire and nearly 100 were evacuated.    A nurse was been charged with 11 counts of murder as the fire is believed to be a result of arson. The nurse pleaded guilty to all 11 counts on May 27, 2013. (There have been other resident deaths but due to their age and health, it wasn’t clear if the deaths were a direct result of the fire.)

The cause of the fire initiation resulting in the deaths of residents, evacuation and severe damage to the nursing home facility is believed to have been arson.   The reasons for the arson are unclear and may never be fully understood.  However, there is still value in analyzing the event to determine if there are any other solutions that could reduce the risk of patient death in the future, at this facility or at others.

We can perform a root cause analysis in the highly visual, intuitive form of Cause Mapping to understand the issues that led to the tragedy.  We begin the analysis with the “What, When and Where” of the event, captured in a problem outline.  Additionally, we capture the impacts to an organization’s goals.   In this case, the patient safety goal was impacted due to the deaths.  There was an impact to employees, as a nurse at the facility has pleaded guiltily to murder.  Patient services were impacted due to the evacuation of the nearly 100 residents at the facility. The severe damage to the site resulted in the construction of a new facility, which cost $25 million.  (The cost of the new facility cannot all be attributed to the fire, as the new facility is much larger and has been modernized.)  Last but not least, the labor goal was impacted due to the incredibly heroic rescue efforts by the staff, firefighters and other rescue personnel, who were honored for their efforts.

Capturing the  frequency of similar issues can help provide perspective on  the magnitude of nation and world-wide issues.  I was unable to find data on the prevalence of nursing home fires in Australia, but there are more than 2,000 nursing home structure fires in the United States every year.  There have been a number of fatal nursing home fires in Australia over the last several years, so this is obviously a concern for the nation.

Once we have determined the impacts to the goals, we can ask “Why” questions to determine the causes that resulted in those impacts.  In this case, the resident deaths were due to smoke inhalation and complications from smoke inhalation as the result of a fire that spread through the facility.  The fire initiation, as discussed above, is believed to be due to arson.  However, it is believed that staffing levels and lack of an automatic sprinkler system were related to the spread of the fire, speed of the evacuation and the number of deaths.

Studies after the event showed how critical sprinklers can be to slow the spread of a fire.  On January 1, 2013, the government of New South Wales passed a law requiring installation of automatic sprinkler systems in all residential aged care facilities prior to January 1, 2016.  It is hoped that the presence of an automated sprinkler would slow or prevent the spread of a fire, resulting in fewer resident deaths.

To view the root cause analysis investigation of the fatal fire, please click “Download PDF” above.