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How can improper positioning cause a death?

Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who take care of patients in hospitals and nursing homes receive special training on how to make sure a patient is properly positioned in her bed.

While this may seem like just a matter of keeping a patient comfortable, making sure a patient is safely and properly resting in a bed is actually critically important to his health. Improper positioning can cause an untimely death, particularly in an elderly or especially ill patient who may have a difficult time swallowing.

The reason is that a poorly positioned patient is more prone to what are called aspirations. A patient who aspirates is unable to properly swallow saliva, reflux and other fluids in his mouth. As a result, fluid will go down the windpipe and slowly fill up the person's lungs, resulting in pneumonia. Particularly for someone who is already in bad health, pneumonia is a very dangerous medical condition.

In most cases, aspirations are hard to detect since they involve only a small amount of fluid. As a result, medical professionals must take the proper steps to prevent aspirations. These steps include proper positioning in bed, as a patient should typically lie at an angle of between 30 and 45 degrees.

A patient using a food tube should also have the position of the tube evaluated every 4 hours, and it is generally unadvisable to sedate a patient who is at risk of aspirating unless doing so is necessary.

A family who discovers that their loved one died as a result of pneumonia should question whether the hospital or nursing facility is responsible. If they discover that the answer could be in the affirmative, then they may be able to file a wrongful death case.

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