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Forced Feeding

As people become elderly, their appetites may diminish or they may experience difficulty swallowing or digesting food as body systems deteriorate with age, or arthritis or other physical conditions that make it challenging to hold and use eating utensils. These complications can lead some older people to eat less, and to potentially become malnourished when they don’t ingest enough nutrients through food.

It’s the duty of a nursing home to ensure that residents under their care get enough nutrition, and help their residents to eat when necessary. That may involve providing a resident with physical therapy to help with swallowing or use of utensils, or providing utensils that are easier to hold and use, or sitting with the resident and feeding the resident manually. However, sometimes a nursing home staff member or administrator may order the use of a feeding tube to force the resident to swallow food. Use of feeding tubes for forced feeding is supposed to be a last resort when there are no other options to prevent malnutrition or dehydration.

A nursing home also may not order the use a feeding tube without the consent of the resident or the resident’s authorized representative unless other options have been exhausted. But sometimes a nursing home may order a feeding tube for a resident as a matter of convenience rather than absolute medical necessity. For example, if the nursing home is understaffed for the number of residents and the type of care they need, a decision might be made to use a feeding tube because the staff doesn’t have time to manually feed a resident who has difficulty feeding himself or herself.

When a nursing home orders a feeding tube as a matter of convenience and not as a last resort to preserve the resident’s life or health, then the nursing home may be guilty of abuse or neglect, and the resident or his or her authorized representative may have a claim for compensation of any injuries or other damages suffered as a consequence of the forced feeding.

What is a Feeding Tube?

A feeding tube typically is a length of thin, flexible plastic tube that is inserted through a person’s nose and ends in the stomach. A formula of liquid nutrition or water is inserted into the tube and flows into the stomach for digestion. Feeding tubes are used when a person has trouble eating or swallowing on his or her own and can’t get enough nutrition or hydration without the tube.

A feeding tube might be used when someone is malnourished or dehydrated, or consistently chokes or aspirates while eating. Aspiration involves food or liquid “going down the wrong way” and ending up in the windpipe or lungs. People who regularly aspirate while eating or drinking have a greater risk for pneumonia.

Feeding tubes are inserted through a surgical procedure called an endoscopy that can result in pain, discomfort, or infection where the tube is inserted. A person with a feeding tube may still be able to eat solid food, depending on whether the person can safely swallow food. It also can be used as the only way a person gets nutrition.

Possible Complications of Feeding Tubes

A senior or person with disabilities who experiences forced feeding through a tube may experience a number of health consequences. Those include:

  • Malnutrition — A person whose sole source of nutrition is through a feeding tube still may not get enough nutrients to stay healthy.
  • Muscle Weakness — The nutrition received from a feeding tube may not be enough to maintain muscle strength and function, and the person may become physically weak.
  • Infections — The insertion of a feeding tube provides an entry point into the body for infections such as MRSA if the tube isn’t properly sterilized or the insertion site isn’t kept sanitized.
  • Vomiting, Nausea, or Constipation — Feeding tubes can cause digestive problems for a nursing home resident. Constipation is a danger unless the formula being fed to the person includes sufficient added fiber.
  • Depression or Anxiety — Use of a feeding tube as a sole means of getting nutrition can affect a person’s mental health, particularly if they didn’t want the tube.
  • Injuries from Improperly Inserted Tubes — An improperly inserted tube could result in internal tears or perforations that could cause serious complications for the nursing home resident.

How a Chicago Nursing Home Attorney Can Help

When a Chicago nursing home forces a resident to use a feeding tube without the consent of the resident or his or her authorized representative, that may be a violation of the resident’s rights and the nursing home may be liable in a civil lawsuit. Under the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act, 210 ILCS 45, when a nursing home resident is abused or neglected, or his or her rights are violated, the owner or licensee may be sued for compensation of any actual losses. That may include compensation of medical costs, lost income, pain and suffering, disability and disfigurement, loss of normal life, and attorney fees.

If you or a loved one has suffered forced feeding in a nursing home, an experienced Chicago nursing home attorney can talk to you about your situation and what you can do to stop the forced feeding and obtain compensation for your injuries and other damages. A lawyer can help you through the entire legal process, from investigation to settlement or trial, and help you get the compensation you or your loved one deserves. Contact us at (312) 236-2900 for a free consultation with a Chicago nursing home attorney today.