There was an elderly woman in the bed. Her face was badly swollen and bruised. Her lip was stitched and her knee gashed. She looked like an assault victim.
"I looked at her and could hardly believe it was my mom," says Anne Findlay. "She was that badly bruised. She looked awful." Her mom was conscious, but terrified, says Anne. She couldn't speak much, because her tongue was swollen.
How could this happen?
Falls are the leading cause of injury among older Canadians. Consider these facts:
- Falls account for up to 40% of inpatient incidents
- 30% of falls result in physical injury, with 2-5% resulting in moderate to serious injury including hip fractures or even death
- Falls can result in longer lengths of stay, increased health care cost and staff workload, and staff and family distress
- Approximately 50% of patients sustaining a in-hospital hip fracture die within one year of the fracture.
One in three Canadians has suffered from preventable healthcare harm, including falls, and yet collectively most people are unaware that the problem exists. That is the silent epidemic. If we do nothing, 1.2 million Canadians will die from preventable patient harm in the next 30 years.
You can help battle this systemic silence in our collective efforts to reduce patient harm.
Anne's mother had been sent for a third X-ray in 24 hours, which was very taxing for the fragile old woman. During the procedure, for reasons still not clear, she rolled off the gurney and dropped to the floor. Paramedics were called and transferred her to the emergency department where she was treated for her injuries.
The emergency room doctor said he'd been told the wheels on Beth's gurney were not properly locked down. The nurses looking after Beth, though clearly upset, couldn't provide any answers. No one seemed to know the exact reason why the gurney had moved, resulting in Beth's fall.
How can falls be prevented? Small changes in the environment can help to address potential harms. You can identify threats and take simple actions to mitigate them, by asking yourself: Is care safe today?
#ConquerSilence aims to prevent patient harm before it happens. The campaign focuses on topical themes to encourage patients, providers and the public to speak up for safe care, so others can learn from their experiences. If something looks wrong, feels wrong, or is wrong – you need to speak up!
One tool that can help you to communicate and get the attention to a problem before a fall happens is called CUS. These are three assertive statements to communicate with your healthcare provider. They begin with "I'm Concerned that…", "I'm Uncomfortable with…", and "This is a Safety issue…". This acronym – and these conversations – are ways that patients and advocates can help providers identify safety concerns, then take action to fix them.
"When somebody is injured in the hospital," says Anne, "if you don't feel that the people involved are being honest with you about what happened, you lose trust. You're this individual, or this family, and you feel like you're up against a huge system. Trust is all you've got to go on."
Anne decided to #ConquerSilence and get involved as a volunteer. She sits on Alberta Health Service's Patient/Family Advisory Group, the Health Quality Council of Alberta's Patient/Family Safety Advisory Panel, and is a member of Patients for Patient Safety Canada.
For more information on strategies to reduce falls, visit www.patientsafetyinstitute.ca. To speak up about falls and trauma, visit www.conquersilence.ca