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Alarm Fatigue at Skilled Care Facilities

Nursing home residents usually enter a long-term living facility because they need around-the-clock care. However, our Illinois nursing home neglect attorneys understand that this does not mean that all residents have the same health concerns or even similar levels of disability. Some residents have few physical outwardly physical ailments but instead are suffering from cognitive concerns like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Some require wheelchairs and walkers to move while others are able to walk without issue. Still other residents have severe disabilities that may keep them bedridden and demand very close observation from staff members.

It is those severely disabled residents who are most likely to fall victim to a growing problem at skilled nursing facilities and hospitals known as “alarm fatigue.” Alarm fatigue refers to the desensitization of caregivers to alarms on medical devices. Heart monitors, ventilators, oxygen monitors, and many other devices come equipped with audible alert systems. The alerts are supposed to go off when something about a patient’s reading is abnormal and requires action by care providers.

On its face these alarms are obviously an important safety features that ensures caregivers address medical emergencies quickly. However, there are hundreds of cases of caregivers who fail to respond to the device alerts in a timely fashion, leading to serious injury and even death for the patient. When this occurs in a nursing home, it is usually a clear indicator of nursing home neglect.

But how can these alarms go unnoticed? Fatigue may be the reason.

Many patient safety experts have explained that there are often an excessive number of alarms on medical devices. Those audible alerts go off frequently-in most cases they are false alarms. After dealing with so many false alarms, many nurses, nurses assistants, and other caregivers become less responsive to the ringing of a device alarm. That means that when the alarm actually indicates a serious concern, the patient may not receive the quick medical care that he or she needs.

The Chicago nursing home neglect attorneys at our firm know that various public and private groups are working to address the alarm fatigue problem. For example, according to the Boston Globe, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is stepping up its pre-market review of medical devices in an effort to help with the problem. The FDA hopes that it can prevent new products from entering that market that come equipped with even more alarms that do not serve important functions.

However, at the end of the day, when it comes to care at hospitals and nursing homes, the buck stops with the caregivers. Each Illinois nursing home neglect lawyer at Levin & Perconti knows that failure to provide timely treatment to a resident in need can never be excused because a caregiver assumed that an alert was just a false alarm. Steps should be taken to minimize the risks of alarm fatigue, but even before those steps are taken, caregivers must ensure that they respond to potential alarms in a reasonable fashion every single time they go off.

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