Star-Tribune looks into fatal falls in nursing homes

Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporters Glenn Howatt and Pam Louwagie analyzed death certificates and found that about 1,000 Minnesota deaths between 2002 and 2008 were related to falls in nursing homes. The duo discovered that state programs have done little to reduce the number of falling deaths, and that oversight is lacking throughout the system.

Less than 10 percent of fall-related deaths in nursing homes are fully investigated by the Minnesota Department of Health, which is charged with monitoring nursing home care. Usually nursing homes themselves are left to privately probe the cause of fatal falls on their premises. State regulators review those findings, but sometimes don’t do more. Even when regulators discover that a mistake led to a resident’s death, they often do not cite nursing homes for violations of state and federal regulations.

Employees interviewed by the reporters pointed to chronic understaffing (and inadequate training) as a primary cause of the falling deaths, as residents are sometimes left unattended for long periods and response times can lag.

A sidebar offers some insight on how the story was reported.

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