A Michigan jury in Macomb County compensated the family of a resident $2.35 million after he
died from choking on a meatball in a Sava nursing home. After an eight day trial and careful
deliberations, the jury concluded that Sava Senior Care Inc., which owned and operated Nightingale Nursing Center, was negligent and caused the death of Walter Polomski, 56, who choked on a golf ball-sized meatball and died after going 15 to 30 minutes gasping for oxygen.  Sava is owned by Murray Forman who also owns and operates the Fundamental Long Term Care Holdings chain of nursing homes.

Sava claimed their subsidiary, SSC Warren Woods Operating, the name on the license, should be
the only Sava entity responsible.  The family’s attorney, John Perrin, said “People need to know that the name on the building isn’t always the company that’s operating the facility,” Perrin said. “There are a lot of shell companies.  Because the real owners don’t put their name on the building, they don’t provide good care.”

Walter Polomski died March 23, 2008, four hours after a meatball got stuck in his trachea
instead of going down his esophagus about 11:35 a.m. at lunch. Polomski never should have had
been given the meatball because he had swallowing problems with doctor’s order for altered
foods. The sole nursing home staffer in the dining room didn’t know the Heimlich maneuver and
instead wheeled him 40 feet or more to a nurse’s station. Another nurse unsuccessfully
performed the Heimlich maneuver on Polomski in the wheelchair then placed him on the ground.
Then another poorly trained nurse tried to force air into his lungs with an “ambu bag,” which
exacerbated the problem. The nursing home failed to call 911 for at least 12 minutes, or properly
staff the dining room, where there should have been at least five staffers. EMS arrived quickly,
and a paramedic removed the meatball with forceps. Polomski died at the hospital on Easter Sunday.

The jury awarded $1.5 million for Polomski’s pain and suffering, $750,000 for the family’s past
“loss of society and companionship” and $100,000 for future loss of companionship. Two jurors
said they agreed Sava was negligent but disagreed with the amount awarded.

The victim’s brother, Richard Polomski was emotional following the verdict.  “I’m ecstatic because my brother’s story was told and I got to find out what exactly happened to him,” Polomski said. “The nursing home was not telling me what EMS was telling me. That’s what prompted me to file a lawsuit.”

Defendants tried to ignore their responsibility by claiming that Polomski’s life expectancy was
only about four to 10 years.

The L.A. Times reported another story about a nursing home fined for allowing a resident to choke to death.  This is the third story about choking deaths in nursing homes in the last couple of weeks.  The nursing home was fined $80,000 after a 54-year-old schizophrenic patient choked on a meatball and died.

Raintree Convalescent Hospital had known the patient had problems swallowing.  The spaghetti meatball served to him needed to be chopped or sliced before being given to him.  Both the cook and the nursing assistant who served the meal failed to grind up the meatballs, as required. The cook failed to follow the directions for the patient’s meal by not mashing up the meatball. He also said the nursing assistant failed to look at the meal card on the patient’s tray — which would have been a second chance to catch the error — before serving the lunch. 
 

"I just did not think to chop up his meat that day," the nursing assistant told state investigators.   The facility was probably understaffed which did not allow her time to do her job properly.

The man stumbled out of his room, pale and unable to speak. After a nurse unsuccessfully attempted the Heimlich maneuver, paramedics were able to suction the meatball out of the man’s airway, but he was pronounced dead at a hospital emergency room.