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Willmar nursing home cited after resident chokes to death

WILLMAR -- Bethesda Heritage Center has been cited for neglect in the death of a resident who choked after eating raw cucumbers.

The Minnesota Department of Health released the report on its investigation earlier this week.

State investigators found the Willmar nursing home was deficient because staff members were unaware the resident, who had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and swallowing difficulties, should not have been allowed to have raw vegetables of any kind.

Bethesda also was cited for failing to immediately report the death to the center's administrator and to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The resident, who was not identified, choked during the evening meal on May 29. According to the Health Department's report, a staff member performed the Heimlich maneuver on her and she managed to expel some food.

She continued to have respiratory distress and an ambulance was called. The resident died later that evening in the emergency room at Rice Memorial Hospital. The death certificate listed respiratory failure and choking as the cause of death.

Staff members told state investigators they thought the resident could be served raw cucumbers because they were soft and in a cream sauce, even though this wasn't allowed under the resident's dietary restrictions.

Investigators found the facility "did not have a convenient or accessible means of identifying a resident's diet during the serving of the meals, for staff to reference."

The nursing home has reviewed its policies and procedures and retrained staff on dietary requirements. It now requires a double check between nursing and dietary employees to ensure residents are being served the correct diet.

Michelle Haefner, chief operating officer of Bethesda Health and Housing, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis that Bethesda took the resident's death very seriously.

"We never want to see this happening again," she said.