Whidbey General Hospital

Preventing Falls at Home and in the Hospital

Some people assume that falls are the inevitable result of growing old or being hospitalized. Yet many falls can be avoided. Whidbey General is taking steps to prevent falls, both in the hospital and at home.





By Michele Renninger, RN, director of Community Outreach at Whidbey General Hospital

A fall is often a life-changing event for an individual, and according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), falls are also a major public health issue. The CDC estimates that:

    • 500,000 falls occur annually in U.S. hospitals, causing 150,000 injuries. The average cost of a fall is more than $19,000, meaning the annual cost of in-hospital falls is an estimated $9.5 billion.
    • Falling is the most common cause of non-fatal injuries and the leading cause of trauma-related hospitalizations in the U.S.
    • Complications from falling include bone fractures, soft tissue injury and increased dependence on others to accomplish daily tasks.
    • The strongest predictor of a future fall is a previous fall.

CDC statistics point to the widespread suffering caused by falls, as well to the financial cost.


Preventing Falls at Whidbey General

The Whidbey General Quality Council for Nursing started in 2010 to research the problem of falling in Island County.

Patient with walkerOver a three-year period, we saw more than 6,000 falls (in-patient, community clinics and 911 calls combined).

These numbers seemed significant for our rural community and fueled our resolve to find solutions. After studying best practices and reviewing cases of people who had fallen, we looked for ways to prevent falls, both in the hospital and in the greater community.

A team of nurses, doctors, physical therapists, paramedics, home health care clinicians and Lifeline specialists created fall prevention guidelines that have been in use at Whidbey General since late 2010.

While it may be impossible to completely eliminate falls, we have learned that falls—and the resulting trauma, cost and suffering—can be significantly reduced.

If someone is hospitalized at Whidbey General today, nurses or other caregivers:

    • Proactively assess patient needs by checking in hourly and at shift change, rather than waiting for the call light to sound. Are patients warm enough? Are they comfortable? Do they want to use the rest room or wash up before a meal? The more settled and secure a patient feels, the less likely they are to risk getting out of bed unnecessarily, which could lead to a fall.
    • Include the family in fall prevention efforts. Which side of the bed does the patient prefer to place their glasses? Where do they like to put their cane? Increased staff knowledge of such simple details can make the environment more familiar.
    • Use a special device on the bed for patients at high risk for falling. If the patient tries to get out of bed, the device alerts a nurse. The device can be programmed to play a pre-recorded voice of a loved one, which can reassure and calm a patient who is in a strange place and who may feel disoriented and confused.
    • Employ advanced technology to safely and comfortably move patients when needed, thereby lowering patient fear and anxiety.

The average number of inpatient falls at Whidbey General in 2011 and 2012 was approximately 23% less than in 2010, when new safety measures were enacted.


Fall Prevention Sets SAIL on Whidbey Island

We moved our fall prevention efforts into the greater community by talking to health care partners such as pharmacists, chiropractors, nurses and dispatch, fire and rescue specialists. As we raised awareness of the problem in Island County, we also gained valuable insights and began to develop a program to reduce the hundreds of annual fall-related 911 calls.

Free Help for Whidbey Island Seniors
360-678-7656, ext. 2136
360-321-7656, ext. 2136

Staying Active and Independent for Life (SAIL) was launched in late 2010. Presented and maintained by our Emergency Medical Services, SAIL focuses on senior fall prevention. It evaluates potential hazards in the home and suggests practical ways to make the home safer and more comfortable. The program is offered in both a classroom format and as an individualized, home safety walkthrough.

The SAIL program is free, which makes it easy for seniors to participate.

The local library system regularly holds SAIL classes. Local gyms, park districts, schools, senior centers and spiritual centers have also participated in the program.

Approximately 20% of 911 calls on Whidbey Island were fall-related in 2010. More than 300 people have participated in SAIL since that time, and fall-related 911 calls have dropped to about 12%.

It’s much better to prevent a fall than to treat one. Whidbey General is committed to keeping our aging population safe through evidence-based, common sense fall prevention. We take fall prevention as seriously as we take infection prevention, and we will continue to look for ways to prevent falls, both in the community and in the hospital.

Michele Renninger, RNMichele Renninger, RN, has been a nurse for nearly 20 years. She is director of Community Outreach at Whidbey General Hospital. Email her or call 360-678-7656, ext. 2136 or 360-321-7656, ext. 2136.

Whidbey General Hospital participates in the Lifeline Emergency Response program, which puts subscribers in touch with a Lifeline monitor 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. To learn more, email Claudia Fuller or call her at 360-678-7656, ext. 3353 or 360-331-2344.


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