Empath Health Quality Improvement Advocate Liz Whitehurst

This week is Fall Prevention Awareness Week. Falls can be extremely dangerous and may cause serious injuries, debilitation and even deaths. Fortunately falls are preventable.

Liz Whitehurst, RN serves as Empath Health’s quality improvement advocate and helps lead our patient safety committee. In this Q&A, she discusses fall risk, fall prevention tips and ways Suncoast Hospice helps prevent the risk of falls for patients.

What puts people at risk for falls?

As you age, you may develop conditions that could require medications, glasses or hearing devices, and you may become unable to tend to household chores as you once did. These can be factors that could increase your risk of falling.

You may be at greater risk of falls if you:

• Fell within the past three months
• Have three or more health issues
• Have confusion, dementia, dizziness, weakness or sleepiness

How can people prevent falls?

Everyone needs to take an active role in preventing falls. You can:

• Find out if you are at risk of falling – ask your healthcare provider
• Talk with your healthcare provider or pharmacist about your medications’ side effects that may contribute to falls
• Take steps that could help reduce your risk of falling, such as have your vision checked and keep your home well-lit and free of clutter

How do we help prevent falls for patients?

Our patient safety booklet covers falls and many other safety issues. Our fall prevention program is in place to increase the quality of life for our patients by reducing the risk of harm from falls. The mission is to:

• Follow established best practices of care
• Identify fall risks
• Educate patients, families and staff

Our Care Centers use a falling leaf system to identify patients’ risk of falling. A fall assessment scale is used with patients and then corresponding colored leaves are placed on their doors to indicate fall risk.

What innovative method do we use to help keep patients with dementia safe from falls?

Our Music in Caregiving pilot program aims to reduce falls for our patients with dementia in assisted living facilities (ALFs). The specially-trained hospice aides on our care teams talk with family caregivers to learn patients’ favorite songs. Our teen volunteers load MP3 players with patients’ playlists and our aides play the music through Bluetooth speakers while giving baths or other care for patients.

Patients with dementia, including those struggling with functioning in the evening time, may become anxious, agitated and combative and could subsequently fall. The music puts patients in a good frame of mind because they are hearing something they love.

How do we work with other care facilities to help prevent falls for patients?

We work together with our ALF and nursing home partners in the community to prevent patient falls. The emphasis is to strengthen the safety standards with our patients throughout the continuum of care. For example, if patients go from a hospital to a rehab center, the rehab needs to have the same standards. When patients move back home, there are other standards.

One example of these standards is medication reconciliation, making medications safer in our Care Centers and other care settings. As our patients transition in and out of our programs and in other areas, there’s a big focus of keeping them safe. We need to provide education and awareness about medications and safety measures to patients, families and everyone involved in care.

We are here to best care for our community. Learn more about our programs online or call us at (727) 467-7423.