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The No. 1 cause of injuries in Hall is much more common than car crash injuries
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Jessica Latimer, a physical therapist assistant at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, demonstrates a fall risk assessment on Laura Wolf on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, at the hospital. The Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s trauma program sees more victims of falls than motor vehicle accidents. - photo by Scott Rogers

Falling is much more than an inconvenience for many in Hall County. 

Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s trauma program and Hall County Fire Services see more victims of falls than any other type of injury. 

“Hall County Fire Services responds to numerous ground level falls each year,” Zachary Brackett, the department’s public information officer, said. “In fact, falls account for our largest call type for EMS response.”

In 2019, Hall County Fire services responded to 3,046 incidents for ground level falls. Brackett said May proved the busiest month of the year with 309 falls. 

Jesse Gibson, NGMC’s trauma program manager, said she witnesses more fall injuries than those from motor vehicle crashes in her section of the hospital. 

The medical center gathers data through a trauma registry, which collects information from the time of a patient’s injury to the time of hospital discharge. 

In fiscal year 2018, she said 2,125 patients were entered into the trauma registry, 54% of which had fall injuries. Motor vehicle crashes accounted for the second highest cause with 25%, followed by motorcycle accidents with 7%. 

From Oct. 1, 2019, to Jan. 14, 2020, Gibson said 64% of the trauma program’s patients were fall victims. 

The most common type of fall injury at the trauma center is an isolated hip fracture. 

Around 65% of the hospital’s trauma patients are between 50 and 90 years old, according to Gibson. 

“The older you get, whether falling from ground level or from a ladder, it can become more severe,” Gibson said. “You see where the fall is almost a downward spiral.”

For example, one rib fracture might lead to poor breathing, which could transform into pneumonia. 

“We’re very fortunate to have three othopedic traumatologists who are second to none in my opinion,” Gibson said. “They treat these injuries often, well and rapidly.”

NGMC became a trauma center in 2013, and since then has been tasked with responding to the data they obtain. 

Jackie Payne, a registered nurse who works in the trauma center, said the program is charged with addressing the hospital's top mechanisms of injury with fall prevention activities. 

“From the injury prevention side, our goal is to raise awareness and also educate and prevent them from entering our hospital system,” Payne said. “How we do that is through partnerships.”

The trauma program has teamed up with Legacy Link and the hospital’s Falls Coalition, which is composed of physical therapists, occupational therapists and others who are interested in preventing falls. 

Home fall prevention tips
  • Remove rugs, use a non-slip backing or attach double-sided tape to avoid slipping.

  • If there’s not a clear path in the house, ask someone to move the furniture.

  • Coil or tape cords and wire to the wall.

  • Have an electrician put a light switch at the top and bottom of any stairs.

  • Make sure carpet is firmly attached to each step of any carpeted stairs.

  • Fix or replace loose handrails.

  • In the kitchen, keep frequently used objects on the lower shelves.

  • Never use a chair as a step stool.

  • Have a non-slip rubber mat on the floor of the tub or shower.

  • Have grab bars installed on the sides of the tub.

  • Place a lamp close to the bed, so it’s easy to reach.

  • Install a night light in the bedroom.

  • Do exercises that improve balance, like repeatedly standing up from and sitting down in a chair.

  • Improve home lighting by installing brighter bulbs.

  • Consider wearing an alarm device that will bring help in case of a fall.

  • Keep emergency numbers in large print near each phone.

Because of these partnerships, community members can take two-hour fall prevention classes once a week for eight weeks. A class is ongoing now, but the next one has not been scheduled.

The trauma program also holds informational booths at community health events like the annual New Year New You Expo put on by The Times in Gainesville. 

Most of the time, Payne said they’ll offer free screenings for those curious about their risk of falling, then offer preventative tips. 

Rugs, pets, cluttered spaces and darkness can trigger falls. However, Payne said there are simple precautions anyone can use around their house.

Some of the tips include clearing a path to commonly visited rooms, keeping non-slip rugs, fixing loose handrails along stairs, having a night light and installing grab bars on the sides of a tub. Payne also encourages those at risk for falling to practice balance exercises, including repeatedly standing up from and sitting down in a chair. 

“Even for those independent individuals, the goal is awareness,” Payne said. “Although they might not be a fall risk, they may have family members, friends or peers that they know of.”

Payne said the trauma program offers case management and can help get people in touch with social workers to secure home health care or assisted devices.

The trauma program focuses heavily on safety precautions and supports people staying active.

“Just because we’re saying geriatric patients are at a high risk, I certainly don’t want them bubble wrapping and sitting at home,” Gibson said. “Be aware of the risk of falls and resources.”

Although Gibson knows fall injuries will never go away in Hall, she would like to see a reduction each year. She said the hospital is just “scratching the surface” on its potential to protect the community. 

“What we want to see is that the injury work has an impact,” Gibson said. “That’s a really hard thing to show, but I think it’s a feasible goal.”

The trauma program encourages those who think they're at risk for falling to talk to their primary care physician.