Valencia Hills Health & Rehab Center Lawsuit and Citations: Nursing Home Resident Dies After Choking on Food

Valencia Hills Health and Rehabilitation Center in Lakeland has been cited for neglect when the facility failed to follow the structures and processes in place for meal preparation, delivery, and supervision. Because of this, a resident lost his life.

A resident with a mechanical diet choked on a hot dog because the facility did not give the correct food consistency. A mechanical diet requires meats to be chopped, but the hot dog was delivered whole. His care plan also dictated he be supervised during dining, which means someone needs to sit with him the whole time. He was not monitored when the food was distributed.

Unfortunately, cases like this are not isolated incidents. Nursing homes put the lives of their residents at risk when they blatantly disregard their responsibilities. Despite his physical and mental complications, the resident was doing well and thriving in the nursing home. All it took was a careless staff member to make a mistake and end his life.

A phone with a family member of the resident revealed the resident had signs of dementia but knew who his family was. He said, “It wasn’t like he lost his mind or anything. He could feed himself. But he would put too much food in his mouth at a time….It was messy. If he was not left alone, he would still be alive today.”

The Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) in charge of his supervision was assisting with another patient during mealtime. In an interview, she said she did not pass the trays that day. The process of passing trays includes checking the ticket assigned to a tray, lifting the lid, and making sure the diet matches the resident’s requirements. Then you check the name on the door to make sure it matches the ticket and the person in the room. Because the CNA did not pass the trays, she didn’t see the hot dog was not chopped. Although the resident could feed himself, he needed someone there to help him.

An interview revealed the CNA went to the resident’s room after assisting someone else. It was then she saw him choking. She tried to help him, but he was in the chair, and she couldn’t stand him up on her own. She called for help, and the nurses started working on him. They tried back blows, abdominal thrusts, and CPR.

An interview was conducted with the Risk Manager, who lives only 3 minutes from the facility. When the staff called her to report the incident, she left right away to start an investigation. The resident was already out of the building when she arrived, but she was informed the resident was found to be choking. The nursing staff came in response to a code. They did abdominal thrusts and got some meat out of his mouth. With his airway still partially blocked, they called 911. Shortly after, the EMS (emergency medical services) showed up and took over. When they intubated him, they got another piece of meat out of the airway. The resident lost pulse at that point, so they put him on a compression machine and transported him to the hospital. At the hospital, he was placed on life support.

After the incident, a telephone interview was conducted with the resident’s family member. The family member said, “They lied to me a lot. I just left picking up his death certificate a
half hour ago. I know they said he choked on a hot dog, and they were taking him to the
hospital for precautions. That’s what they told my brother. Come to find out it was a
little more serious than that. When we got to the hospital the doctors asked me a bunch of
questions I couldn’t answer. So, we went and had a little meeting with the Risk Manager
and the Administrator… The Risk Manager and Administrator, they told me he had a pulse and heartbeat the whole time and they never had to resuscitate him.”

The family member indicated that the nursing home told the family a long time ago that the resident couldn’t be left alone with food. With his eating habits, the family member said he wouldn’t have given the resident a hot dog. “You wouldn’t give a 3 or 5-year-old a hot dog and leave them alone. He was like a 5-year-old.” The family would often visit 4 or 5 days of the week and bring him cheeseburgers. They would stay the whole time to ensure their loved one didn’t choke on the meal.

When you place your loved one in a nursing home, you put your trust and faith into the staff and administration to keep your loved one safe. In this case, the nursing home failed to properly supervise and adhere to the meal plan of the resident. Because of this, he needlessly lost his life.

If you suspect nursing home neglect, we will provide a free, confidential case evaluation with no obligation to hire us. We treat our clients with compassion and aggressively represent their rights, making nursing homes take responsibility for abuse. Distasio Law Firm has the expertise and ability to advocate for victims of nursing home abuse and neglect, even if a case goes to trial.


Our main office is here in Downtown Tampa, Florida in the Channelside neighborhood. Office in Wesley Chapel and Largo are available by appointment only.

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