Nursing Home Breathing Tube Accidents

A ventilator is a medical device that is used to help patients breathe. Ventilators may either assist a patient in breathing or may totally breathe for the patient depending on the patient’s needs and condition. The ventilator usually works by inserting a breathing tube down a patient’s throat or into the front of the neck and into the airway where it allows air to pass into the lungs. This is known as a  tracheotomy tube. The ventilator machine then pumps air through the tube and into the resident’s lungs.

Diagram of an endotracheal tube used in mechanical ventilation. The tube is inserted into the trachea in order to provide air to the lungs.
A) Endotracheal tube, which sits in the trachea. B) Inflatable Cuff, which facilitates the inflation of the balloon at the end of the tube to allow it to sit securely in the airway. The balloon can also be deflated via this cuff upon extubation. C) Trachea
D) Esophagus
Medical Illustration By PhilippN

What are Some Potential Complications of Using a Ventilator?

There are several potential complications associated with ventilators and breathing tubes that can have serious consequences for patients. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the most common complication is pneumonia. A breathing tube with bacteria on it that is then inserted into a nursing home resident’s lungs can cause a bacterial respiratory infection like pneumonia. Pneumonia can be deadly infection. Other potential complications related to ventilator use include:

  • Pneumothorax: A condition that develops when air leaks out of the lungs and into the space between the lungs and chest wall that can potentially cause pain, shortness of breath, and infections. An improperly inserted breathing tube can cause this injury;
  • Oxygen Deprivation: breathing tubes can clog, detach from the ventilator or get pinched. Any of these things will prevent oxygen from reaching the lungs. This can result in brain damage or death.
  • Lung Damage: A breathing tube could force air into the lungs with too much pressure, which can damage the lungs;
  • Oxygen Toxicity: If a breathing tube provides too much oxygen to the lungs, then excess oxygen can damage the lungs;
  • Blood Clots and Serious Skin Infections: Depending on a patient’s underlying medical conditions, blood clots and skin infections like bedsores can result from a patient being forced to remain in one position for extended periods of time while on a ventilator;
  • Damage to Vocal Chords: A breathing tube can potentially cause damage to a patient’s vocal chords, especially if it has been inserted incorrectly or too forcefully.

Any one of the circumstances above can result in serious long-term complications and death.

These medical conditions can be serious for patients on a ventilator, especially elderly adults because they may already be sick or have underlying medical issues that can be compounded by ventilator and breathing tube related injuries.

When Might a Nursing Home Be Liable for Ventilator-Related Problems?

Ventilators are extremely important pieces of medical equipment that must be checked frequently to ensure that they are working properly. Regular maintenance and observation can help ensure that they are clean and not operating in a way that could potentially harm a patient.

Additionally, patients using ventilators must be continuously monitored. For a long time, it was uncommon to see ventilators outside a hospital setting. However, it has proven to be cost effective to operate ventilators in settings like nursing homes. That means that nursing home staff must be trained to properly care for patients using ventilators and must be aware of the various warning signs associated with ventilator and breathing tube complications.

Residents that are on a ventilator usually are not able to communicate symptoms they are experiencing in a traditional sense. They are often capable of communicating through writing, signaling, or gesturing. Nursing home staff needs to communicate with residents even if they cannot speak. Other times residents on ventilators are unconscious and are incapable of informing staff of any problems associated with the ventilator or breathing tube. In this situation the nursing home staff has to determine themselves if the ventilator and breathing tube are working properly and not causing damage.

If your loved one has experienced breathing tube or ventilator complications or has died or suffered brain damage in a nursing home while using a ventilator and you suspect that a nursing home’s negligence may have led to that injury or death, it is important to work with an experienced personal injury attorney to investigate the circumstances surrounding your claim.

When nursing homes neglect patients on ventilators or fail to properly train staff working with ventilators or breathing tubes, they may be held liable for complications that arise and you may be eligible for compensation.