Medication Errors in Nursing Homes
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Pintas & Mullins Law Firm handles nursing home abuse cases for clients nationwide. We travel to meet clients who have been harmed through negligence such as medication errors. Among the most common signs of nursing home neglect or abuse are errors related to medication administration.
Examples of medication errors include:
- Crushing / slicing medication that should not be crushed
- Not providing necessary fluids alongside medication
- Not providing food alongside the medication
- Not shaking, mixing, or “rolling” medication as needed
- Incorrect medication dose, giving too little or too much of a medication
- Giving expired medication to a patient
- Incorrect time, duration, or rate of administration
- Not properly monitoring the patient after administration
- Prescribing medications unnecessarily, to subdue or control a resident. This is referred to as chemical restraint
All of the above can have serious consequences. If you suspect that your loved one has suffered a medication error—or any other form of nursing home abuse or neglect—do not hesitate to get legal help. We handle nursing home cases nationwide.
Overmedication of Elderly Patients
One of the most insidious yet widespread problems residents face is wrongful or overmedication. There has been a rise in excessively medicating residents or giving them medications they were not prescribed in an attempt to sedate them. This is most common in understaffed facilities, where employees do not have the time or resources to care for “unruly,” or “difficult” residents. Instead of giving patients the attention that they deserve, overworked staff attempt to control them by drugging them into a state of submission. When chemical restraint occurs, the effects are not only dangerous, they can be permanently debilitating and even fatal.
Warning signs of overmedication or wrongful medication include:
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Unexplained weight gain / loss
- Confusion and memory loss
- Unusual or unexplained physical symptoms
- Reclusiveness or lethargy
Effects of Medication Errors
Medication errors can lead to various health problems in elderly patients, including side effects of confusion and balance loss leading to falls and fractures, delirium, malnutrition, and dehydration. Administering an incorrect medicine can cause adverse drug effects between different medications resulting in serious organ damage, worsening conditions, and even wrongful death.
Administration of Expired Prescription
Every family that places their loved one in a nursing home expects that they will receive appropriate care and supervision throughout the day. In many cases, these elderly residents require medications several times a day.
A nursing home has the duty and responsibility to ensure that its residents receive the proper medication at the proper times. The Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General has very strict standards regarding how nursing homes are to administer prescriptions to residents.
Unfortunately, due to many reasons, including overworked and understaffed nursing homes, many elderly residents receive expired prescriptions, leading to harmful injuries or even death.
Dangers of Expired Prescriptions
Prescriptions have an expiry date on them for an important reason. There are many reasons why an expired prescription could cause serious injury or even death. The expiry date, also known as the “use by date” or “use before date,” designates a specific time in which a particular medication is safe and effective to use. If a resident of a nursing home takes a prescription medication after this expiration, then several severe medical complications could occur.
In some cases, expired medicine is less effective due to its diminished potency over time. While this may not seem to be a significant danger at first, a patient that relies on medication to control any health problem can find themselves suffering from serious injuries if the medication is not provided at full potency.
In other cases, the medication may actually have no efficacy whatsoever, leaving the resident with no medication to control their medical health issue, which may be a life-threatening one.
Some medications actually become toxic after their expiry date. If medication becomes poisonous, it is likely due to the molecular structure or stability of that particular prescription. For example, insulin must remain refrigerated. If insulin remains out of the refrigerator for even two months, and the administration of the expired prescription goes to a nursing home patient, this can result in diabetic ketoacidosis causing a resident to slip into a coma, or even die.
Types of Expired Prescriptions That Cause Harm
Some of the medications that become toxic or less effective following their expiration date include the following, according to Harvard Health Publishing:
- Liquid antibiotics
Nursing Home Prescription Waste
According to research published in the medical journal, Pharmacy, many nursing homes have significant amounts of leftover and unused medications. In some cases, nursing home residents no longer need a specific prescription or need a higher (or lower) dose of the same medication previously prescribed to them.
In other cases, the nursing home resident no longer needs that specific medication at all. In order to attempt to avoid medication wastage, some nursing homes will continue to use those prescriptions for other residents that then receive the same prescription at a later time.
It is never appropriate or ethical to administer a prescription intended for one resident to a different resident at any time. Additionally, when these prescriptions expire over time, they lose their efficacy or can even become toxic, leading to serious injuries or fatalities. While nursing home medication waste is a concern that needs attention in the medical community, the solution is not the administration of expired prescriptions to other nursing home residents.
What To Do If You Discover Your Elderly Loved One Received Expired Prescriptions
If you discover that your loved one received expired prescriptions as a resident in a nursing home, you should seek immediate medical attention for them.
Additionally, you should file an official complaint with the nursing home management. Depending on the severity of the incident, you may also want to consider calling Adult Protective Services or law enforcement. If you fear for the safety of your elderly loved one, and do not feel you can trust them to remain safe while in the nursing home, you should find alternative living arrangements for them to remove them from any type of danger.
For a free legal consultation with a Medication Errors Lawyer serving nationwide, call (800) 842-6336
Can I Sue a Doctor for Neglect?
The line between abuse and neglect can be quite thin, and it is not a stretch to assume that, if your loved one is the victim of elder abuse, they may be a victim of neglect, too. Mistreatment in any form is unacceptable and can be grounds for legal action.
If you suspect that your loved one suffered neglect alone or potentially other forms of mistreatment as well, you should call law enforcement. After you do this, call a lawyer who can help you map out your case for compensation, including determining if you can sue a doctor for neglect.
A Lawyer Will Help You Identify a Defendant and Take Action
When you find out that your elderly loved one suffered mistreatment, which is all too common, according to the World Health Organization, it is important to consult an advisor to help you organize your thoughts and take an efficient approach to pursuing any compensation that your loved one is entitled to. A lawyer can be that advisor when you sue a doctor for neglect or pursue other legal action.
A lawyer will assist you by:
- Helping you identify the defendants in your case. Both the perpetrator of the neglect and administrators may be liable for your loved one’s mistreatment.
- Recording an official account of events and submitting the necessary paperwork to file your case in court.
- Collecting and organizing evidence that could help your case, which may include any video showing that abuse or neglect did occur.
- Corresponding with counsel for the defendant so that you and your lawyer are aware of any settlement offers that they extend.
- Speaking with medical professionals who can attest that your loved one’s injuries were possibly or likely caused by neglect or abuse.
- Interviewing residents that can prove a culture of abuse or neglect in the home where your loved one suffered mistreatment, as well as any witnesses to mistreatment of your loved one.
- Completing all the necessary steps to complete your loved one’s defense, whether the result is a judgement or settlement.
- Defending you and your loved one’s rights throughout the legal process.
A lawyer can be an invaluable resource for you. Part of their job is to determine how the defendant or defendants in your case were negligent.
Forms of Negligence in Nursing Homes
The elderly are often the targets of mistreatment and neglect. Issues such as understaffing are common in these sorts of living facilities, which can lead to sub-par care.
Neglect and abuse in settings where the elderly lives can take many forms, so you should recognize the possible signs that your loved one suffered mistreatment. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, they may include:
- Your loved one exhibiting a depressed mood, such as stopping participation in activities that they typically enjoy.
- The presence of signs of physical trauma, such as cuts, bruises, burns, scrapes, and more serious injuries such as bone fractures.
- Bedsores, which may indicate your loved one is not being properly bathed or rotated in their bed.
- Poor personal hygiene (body odor, unshaven face, uncombed hair)
- Your loved one showing signs of fear and anxiety, such as rocking back and forth or recoiling from your touch.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Unexplained hair loss.
- Your loved one telling you clearly that they are being mistreated.
Being elderly, your loved one may also be a target of sexual abuse and financial exploitation, too.
If you suspect that your loved one is being mistreated in any way, call law enforcement and then call a lawyer.
Medication Errors Lawyer Near Me (800) 842-6336
Can You Sue A Doctor Without Malpractice Insurance?
You can sue a doctor without malpractice insurance. If a doctor does not have this type of insurance, they are financially responsible if found guilty of medical malpractice.
It is important that you consider the value of a lawyer if you suffered harm by a doctor or another medical professional and would like to seek compensation for your losses.
Circumstances That May Warrant a Medical Malpractice Claim
Malpractice claims are a part of doing business for most doctors, as medical procedures or basic medical care can leave a patient worse off than when they came in for advice or treatment.
When you sustain harm in a medical setting, a malpractice suit is one of the clearest paths to financial recovery. Suing a doctor without malpractice insurance is an option a lawyer can help you pursue. An attorney can bring forth a suit if you:
- Are misdiagnosed by your doctor, which can lead to a worsening condition and require more treatment than you would need if you were diagnosed correctly.
- Received a delayed diagnosis, which can also worsen the symptoms of the true problem.
- Endured treatments for a condition that you did not have, which is a common result of misdiagnosis.
- Are a victim of surgical error.
- Received a treatment other than the one the medical professional prescribed, which can be due to clerical error or other forms of negligence.
- Underwent a procedure without the doctor thoroughly vetting you for preconditions and other critical considerations.
- Received too little or too much anesthesia.
- Did not give consent for certain procedures or forms of care.
- Developed an infection after a medical procedure.
- Gave birth to a child with complications that may be the result of doctor error, whether before, during, or after labor.
- Are the victim of understaffing or overworked medical staff.
The list of cases that may qualify you as the plaintiff in a medical malpractice claim goes on. These are just some of the most common causes of malpractice claims. Speak to a lawyer today to discuss your case in greater detail. An attorney can figure out what sort of case you have for compensation.
How to Sue a Doctor Without Malpractice Insurance
A lawyer will be able to inform you about the ramifications of suing doctors without insurance, and can handle your case from start to finish should you choose to proceed.
A lawyer can help you by:
- Discussing your case with you in person or over the phone, taking notes, and formulating a clear record of your injuries and their cause.
- Filing your case in the proper court as soon as possible.
- Reaching out to the lawyers of the defendant(s) to see what, if any, settlement offers are available to you.
- Collecting all evidence relevant to your case, including any proof that shows the defendant or defendants in your case are negligent.
- Consulting medical professionals who can attest that negligence took place in your case.
- Completing your case from start to finish.
- Protecting your rights throughout the legal process.
A lawyer will aim to prove that negligence took place and that you or your loved one suffered harm by this negligence. If successful, a court may award you compensation or the defendant may choose to settle your case for an agreed upon amount of compensation.
Possible Awards in Your Case
If your lawyer reaches a settlement or the court views you as the victim of negligence, you could collect compensation covering your losses. Such compensation may include coverage for:
- Any compensation that you paid the doctor who was guilty of negligence.
- Any additional medical procedures required to fix the effects of medical malpractice in question.
- Pain and suffering that you endured because of the malpractice.
- Lost wages and diminished earning power caused by the medical malpractice.
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Understanding when and why chemical restraint is used in nursing homes can help you determine if your loved one is getting the care and treatment they need to thrive.
Understanding Use of Restraints in Nursing Homes
Sometimes in healthcare, restraints are used to limit the independent movement or thought of a patient. Although restraints can be used by well-meaning caretakers, ethical issues can easily arise when restraint is used in a healthcare setting.
Physical restraints are used in anywhere from four to 85 percent of nursing homes, according to the Journal of Medical Ethics. While the practical use of physical restraints is clinically proven, the “psychological and social consequences of restraint use” are not well studied.Physical restraints include any devices used to limit the mobility of a patient, whether for his or her own safety, or for keeping someone else safe. They come in many different forms, and may look like belts, vests, jackets, or other coverings that stop a person from moving a specified body part. They cannot be easily removed.
To put it simply, the goal of using physical restraints is to keep a person in one position, or to stop them from doing something harmful, like self-inflicting injuries or pain, removing necessary medications, falling, or hurting others. In other cases, a nursing home or healthcare provider may choose to subdue a person through the use of chemical restraints.
Using physical restraint on nursing home residents is easily proven harmful, but the use and effects of chemical restraint are not always so obvious. Chemical restraints are typically administered to patients in the form of medication, with the goal of controlling that individual’s behavior. Some nursing home facilities take advantage of antipsychotic medications and sedatives for this reason, in cases where they are otherwise unnecessary. Common examples of popular generic names of medications misused for chemical restraints include:
- Antidepressants: Imipramine, Desipramine, Doxepin, Nortriptyline, Fluoxetine, Sertraline, and Trazodone.
- Anti-anxiety medications: Oxazepam, Alprazolam, Diazepam, Lorezepam, Hydroxyzine, and Busipirone.
- Antipsychotic medications: Haloperidol, Thioridazine, Thiothixene, Chlorpromazine, Risperidone, and Olanzapine.
- Mood Stabilizers: Lithium carbonate and Valproic acid.
- Sedatives: Flurazepam, Temazepam, Lorezepam, Oxazepam, Diphenhydramine, Hydroxyzine, and Chloral hydrate.
This is a non-exhaustive list of medications that could be used as chemical restraints. The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 entitles your loved one to freedom from abuse and neglect, including overuse of physical and chemical restraint in nursing homes.
Signs of Abuse Through Chemical Restraints
It is important to consider all reasonable options for your loved one’s care, including encouraging family involvement to monitor for any signs of nursing home abuse. The more you are aware of the usual condition of your loved one, the more likely you are to notice any sudden changes that could indicate abuse or neglect. Potential signs that your loved one is not receiving quality care may include:
- Bruises, marks on the skin, broken bones
- Dirty undergarments and bedding
- Unusually retractive behavior, like increased fear, anxiety, and depression
- Easily or frequently injured
- Bed sores
- Excessive weight loss
Remember that this is a non-exhaustive list of symptoms your loved one may show, according to the Nursing Home Toolkit. It is important to document all changes in behavior or physical appearance, so that filing a claim of nursing home neglect is more straightforward.
Long-Term Consequences of Overusing Restraints
There are many possible side effects of frequent and continued use of physical or chemical restraints. More obvious signs of nursing home abuse or neglect through the overuse of restraints can be serious. Here are some of the potential consequences:
- Unfair Treatment: When an older person with a progressive cognitive disease cannot communicate efficiently, nursing home staff could become frustrated and choose to give them chemical restraints instead of meeting an unmet need.
- Progressively Worse Health Conditions: The FDA has not approved antipsychotic medications for the treatment of age-related diseases like dementia, and mistreating them can make the condition worsen.
- Reduced Quality of Life: Our elders are entitled to life with dignity while in the care of nursing home staff, and using chemical restraints contradicts that
- Increased Risk of Death: According to one report on U.S. nursing homes, someone who is inappropriately administered antipsychotic medications doubles the risk of death for people with dementia.
If you suspect that your loved one is a victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, you may want to consider taking legal action against the care facility.
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Delivery of the Wrong Patient’s Medication
Nursing homes have a responsibility to ensure that all of their residents receive the proper medication at the correct time throughout the day. One of the primary reasons that families place their elderly loved one in a nursing home revolves around their senior’s need for care and proper attention. Any delivery of the wrong patient’s medication to an elderly resident of a nursing home is a completely preventable error.
The consequences of such an error can result in catastrophic injuries or even death. If you feel your elderly loved one suffered injuries as a result of receiving another resident’s medication, you may have the right to legally pursue justice on their behalf.
Dangers of Wrong Medication
Results published from a study in BMC Geriatrics demonstrate that nursing home residents often receive incorrect medication. Any medication that an elderly nursing home resident receives incorrectly can lead to serious injuries or death.
First, those residents need to receive their correct medications in the correct dosages in order to ensure their continued health. A heart patient needs their heart medication, and a diabetic needs their insulin. If their medication is incorrectly delivered to a different resident in the nursing home, they will likely suffer from some sort of ill-effect as a result of not receiving their medication.
Additionally, the resident that receives a delivery of the wrong patient’s medication may suffer from adverse complications and side effects or even have a reaction due to the interaction with the medication they currently take.
Delivery of Wrong Patient’s Medication and Nursing Home Neglect
One of the primary functions of a nursing home is to prepare and administer medications to elderly residents. In fact, many families are unable to stay at home with their loved ones due to work and school obligations and place their family members in a nursing home simply to ensure that they receive their proper medication at the correct time.
Stringent requirements should always exist regarding the preparation and administration of medications to nursing home residents. In fact, every nursing home should follow the standards created and established through the Nursing Home Reform Act, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Quality and Safety in Health Care published an article that lists a few preventative measures for nursing home patients receiving the wrong medication. Some of these tactics include the following:
- Medication should always have correct labels with the nursing home resident’s name, dosage amount, and dosage times.
- Caregivers should always double-check that the medication and dosage are correct.
- Residents should have the ability to receive documentation and information regarding their prescription medications.
- In some cases, several different nursing home staff employees will work to prepare and distribute medications to nursing home residents. Clear communication should always occur to ensure that all residents receive the correct medications in the correct dosages.
- Nursing home staff employees should receive support from management, providing them with adequate time, minimal distractions, and proper lighting to ensure that they handle the preparation and distribution of medications appropriately.
- The nursing home should always have appropriate staffing, as understaffing may lead to mistakes and errors with respect to medications and care of elderly residents.
Intentional Delivery of Wrong Patient’s Medication as a Form of Nursing Home Abuse
Nursing home employees may deliver the wrong patient’s medication to a resident simply in error, which would give rise to a possible nursing home neglect case. There are also some situations in which a nursing home employee will make the decision to intentionally deliver the wrong medication to a patient in order to calm, control, or immobilize them.
Some elderly residents of nursing homes suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. These patients can easily suffer from confusion, which may translate into aggressive behavior. With nursing home staff employees feeling overwhelmed and unable to manage their residents due to understaffing or other reasons, they may make the decision to distribute the wrong medication to a patient intentionally, such as an antipsychotic medication or muscle relaxer in order to chemically control their behavior.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the abuse of antipsychotic medications to calm residents in nursing homes occurs regularly. If you feel your elderly loved one suffered from any injuries as a result of being chemically controlled against their will, and without a physician’s orders, you may have the legal right to pursue justice on your senior’s behalf.
Dispensing expired medication is known as a prescription error and is a type of medical malpractice. An expiration date is a guarantee of potency from the manufacturer. If medication is used after this date, the company is not responsible for its potency level or effectiveness. Additionally, pharmacists are not allowed to dispense expired prescription medications. Over-the-counter medications should not be sold once their expiration date passes.
History of Medication Expiration Dates
Since 1979, the United States Food and Drug Administration requires both prescription and over-the-counter medications to include expiration dates to let pharmacists and consumers know that the medication is safe to take and will work. If someone takes medication after it expired, it is possible that the medication will not be effective and could even be dangerous.
Expired Medication Safety Concerns
Expired medication presents some serious safety concerns. These include:
- Bacterial growth or mold on medications.
- Antibiotic resistance.
- Misuse or abuse.
- Accidental ingestion by pets or children.
- Formulations change or degrade over time.
More research into expired medication safety is needed to fully understand what could happen when you take outdated medications. The list above highlights only some of the potential problems. While it is unlikely that consuming expired medication will poison you, some formulas are unsafe after a long period of time.
Expired Medication Laws
According to the FDA’s Expiration Dating and Stability Testing for Human Drug Products guide, any medications packaged after the law went into effect is enough to start regulatory action. The expiration date is not always an indicator of safety, as some medications are still potent after their expiration date. However, some medications, such as insulin, are less stable.
If you take medication after its expiration date and get sick, the manufacturer does not face the same liability as it would if the medication had not expired. A pharmacist that fills a prescription with expired medication breaks the law and puts your health at risk. Hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors that provide patients with medication can also be held liable for the damage that expired medications cause. This includes any free samples medical practices give to patients.
Ways to Properly Dispose of Expired Medication
Once a medication passes its expiration date, it is important to properly dispose of it. This reduces the risk of personal and environmental harm. It is not a good idea to throw out medications in most residential garbage cans. Some ways you can safely dispose of expired medication are:
- Participating in a local pharmacy’s drug take-back program.
- Mixing medications with dirt, kitty litter, or coffee grounds and placing it in a sealed plastic bag to put in the trash.
- Flushing certain used medications down the toilet.
- Sending back medications through the DEA’s National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.
There are other programs that can help you process expired medications safely. If you have any questions about how to safely dispose of expired medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist for recommendations. There are likely other local medication take-back programs in your area.
Expired Medication and Pharmacy Malpractice
Depending on how you gain access to the expired medication, the type of malpractice case you can pursue will vary. Generally, pharmacy malpractice occurs when the pharmacist dispenses the harmful drug to the patient. However, other medical providers such as doctors, nurses, and facilities also provide medication to patients. In these cases, where the medication is not “dispensed,” you could have a medical malpractice case.
Each state has different laws regarding malpractice lawsuits involving medications. States may have different regulations based on the type of place that you get the medication from. The definition of pharmacy may vary. For instance, compounding pharmacies may face different laws than if the medication is given to you as a sample in your doctor’s office. Pharmacists have an obligation to confirm dosage instructions and identify potential problems with medication before patients take it.
If you are hurt by a prescription medication, it is best to discuss your legal options with an attorney. They can discuss the specifics of your case and determine the correct path forward based on the laws that apply in your state.
Failure to Monitor Patient After Medication
Long-term care nurses are specially trained and licensed to meet the needs of patients in care facilities, such as nursing homes. Sometimes, however, there are cases of neglect and abuse in such facilities, for example when a nurse fails to monitor a patient after medication.
Medication Errors in Nursing Homes
Medication errors, or “any preventable medication-related event that may cause or lead to patient harm,” can happen because of individual error, medication packaging, and numerous other reasons. Studies show that people over the age of 65 are more likely to experience adverse side effects from a variety of drug classes, including any of the following:
- Cardiac Medications.
- Psychiatric Medications (antidepressants, tranquilizers, hypnotics, etc.).
- Pain Relievers.
Our bodily organs and systems age in at the same time, making them less efficient and more vulnerable to negative impacts over time. Additionally, if medications are not specifically designed, tested, and proven effective for older patients, adverse side effects that were previously unknown may occur.
Medication Monitoring for Nursing Home Patients
Patients in nursing homes may have multiple medications to be administered per day. When this is the case, they are more at risk of suffering from medication errors than ever. Here are a few high-risk situations in which nursing home patients may need additional monitoring when medication is administered, as described by the Office of the Inspector General:
- The patient takes more than five prescribed medications per day.
- The patient has 12 or more doses of any given medication per day.
- The patient has “more than three concurrent disease states.”
This is not an exhaustive list of reasons why a nursing home patient may need additional monitoring when medication is administered. However, it is worth noting that these circumstances alone are common for nursing home patients, which sets a high standard of care in itself.
According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid services, simply giving too much medication, not giving enough medication, or failing to monitor patients after administering medications could warrant a claim for nursing home neglect or abuse.
Rights of Residents in Nursing HomesAlthough they may not be able to have full autonomy and independence, people living in nursing homes are entitled to quality care and life with as much independence as possible. The Social Security Act requires that nursing homes take care of their beneficiaries “in a manner that ensures dignity, respect, and choice.” On the same note, quality of life should not be negatively impacted just because someone lives in a nursing home.
Standards for an individual’s care may vary by state, but must be completed “promptly on admission” to a nursing home and must address your loved one’s:
- Medical needs.
- Nursing needs.
- Psychosocial needs.
In addition to meeting these needs, the plan of care must address exactly how each need is met while they are living in the nursing home. Family members and other nursing home helpers can make sure your loved one is being appropriately cared for by specifying their needs for medications, food, fluids, limits on restraints, and more. This can prevent any miscommunication or misunderstandings when it comes to administering and monitoring medication use.
In the event that your loved one stops receiving the quality of care you expect, the nursing home staff may face serious consequences for neglect or abuse.
Common Mistakes and Consequences for Errors in Nursing Homes
Medication errors can happen anywhere from the moment the medication is prescribed, to how it is administered and monitored afterwards. Physicians and nurses face serious legal and ethical issues if they make an error while prescribing, administering, or monitoring patient medications. Mayo Clinic states that negative consequences for medication error include, and are not limited to: [loss of] “patient trust, civil actions, criminal charges, and medical board discipline.”
Legal Options for Nursing Home Abuse Cases
Families of neglected or abused loved ones may have any of the following types of cases:
- Personal injury due to negligence.
- Wrongful death.
- Medical malpractice.
- Breach of contract.
This is not an exhaustive list of cases you may pursue if you believe your loved one is being neglected or abused in a nursing home. The challenge some families face when trying to negotiate for better care of their loved one in a nursing home, is that not all nursing homes are held to the same standards.
How Common Are Medication Errors in Nursing Homes?
Medication errors in nursing homes are unfortunately common, as a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society shows. Researchers found that 16-27% of nursing home residents receive incorrect medications.
Common Medication Errors In Nursing Homes
Sometimes nursing home staff make errors during the preparation or doling out of medicine. Mistakes of this kind can contradict doctors’ orders, manufacturers’ instructions, or other professional standards.
Medication errors in nursing homes can occur in many ways, including giving out the wrong medication, or giving out too much or too little medication. The following are some common medication errors in nursing homes that have happened to elderly residents.
- A doctor prescribes incorrect medication or the wrong dosage of medication.
- A doctor or pharmacist fails to check to see if the medication interacts with any other medications the resident is taking.
- The nursing home pharmacy or staff distributes the wrong medication or the wrong dosage of medication to the resident.
- The nursing home staff incorrectly administer medication to a resident.
- The medication interacts negatively with the resident’s diet.
- Mislabeled medication.
- Crushing or slicing medications incorrectly.
- Not providing enough fluids or food with medications.
- Failure to property shake, mix, or roll medications.
- Failure to administer inhalers correctly.
- Providing expired medications to residents.
- Failure to ensure that residents receive their medications at the proper time or rate.
- Failure to check lab work.
- “Borrowing” medication from one resident to give to another when a medication runs low.
There are other ways that a staff member can make a medication error.
How Medication Errors Occur in Nursing Homes
Medication errors are entirely preventable and are oftentimes the result of negligence. From unreadable handwriting causing an incorrect prescription to incorrect dosages, nursing home pharmacies often make mistakes in giving out and dosing medicine. Even when the prescription is accurate, residents can receive medication incorrectly due to administration errors, such as injecting medicine into a muscle instead of the bloodstream.
Consequences of Medication Errors
The consequences of a medication error in a nursing home can range from minor to deadly. Depending on the medication and the error, any type of reaction could occur. While medication errors can be deadly, according to the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society study, the serious impacts and severe consequences of medication errors were low, with death being a very rare event.
As stated, medication errors are common in nursing homes, and the elderly are particularly susceptible to medication errors due to weakened immune systems and complete reliance on nursing home staff to administer their medications.
Prevention of Medication Errors
The entire nursing home staff must work together to prevent common medication errors in nursing homes from occurring. With so many different people coordinating medication for nursing home residents, several ways exist to ensure that nursing home residents receive correct and appropriate medication, including:
- Computerized systems connected throughout the nursing home staff and the medical community to ensure consistent communications.
- Compatible computerized systems among any medical providers and nursing home facilities.
- Automated dispensing devices.
- Uniform and universally accepted standards of writing prescriptions and orders.
- Appropriate and adequate education and training of nursing home staff.
- Competency testing of nursing home staff.
- Ensuring that every medication is ready for the appropriate resident and not delivered incorrectly or to the wrong resident.
We will study all relevant evidence to establish and prove that the nursing home did not complete all required processes.
Holding Nursing Homes Responsible for Medication Errors
If your elderly loved one suffered an injury as a result of a medication error, you may have a legal right to hold the nursing home responsible. We will get all of your elderly loved one’s medical records, their nursing home medication records, and hire a medical expert witness to examine the records to ensure that we build a strong case regarding your loved one’s injuries. An investigation will determine how the nursing home negligently administered and distributed the medication.
How Do I Sue a Hospital for Negligence?
If you suspect that your loved one is the victim of negligence or other forms of mistreatment while they were staying in a hospital or another facility, you should call our firm to help you take legal action. A lawyer can be of great help as you focus on helping your loved one recover from the negligence they endured.
A Lawyer Can Handle Your Legal Case During This Tough Time
When you find out that your loved one is a victim of negligence, you may be overcome with a range of emotions, and a lawyer can help you organize a case for compensation if you want to sue a hospital for negligence.
A lawyer can assist you by:
- Helping you identify who the defendant in your case is, as it may be multiple people including hospital management and the person directly responsible for the neglectful actions.
- Filing the necessary paperwork so that your case is recognized in the courts as soon as possible.
- Collecting and organizing evidence that the hospital was negligent in their care for your loved one.
- Consulting medical professionals who may testify that your loved one shows signs of neglect.
- Speaking with the defendant’s lawyer so that you are aware of any settlements that they offer.
- Completing every step to make sure that your case reaches a conclusion, whether it is a judgment or settlement.
- Defending your rights throughout the legal process.
Awards That You May Collect From Your Case
The specifics of how your loved one suffered mistreatment is completely unique, and so are any awards that your loved one is entitled to. Yours will not be the first case where a hospital is sued for negligence. Some possible awards if you sue a hospital for negligence could include coverage for:
- The cost of care for your loved one’s time in the hospital.
- Any required additional care because of the negligence that your loved one endured.
- Pain and suffering that your loved one endured because of neglect or other mistreatment endured at the hospital.
The circumstances of your case may entitle you (or your loved one) to additional compensation other than those listed here. Sometimes, negligence ultimately contributes to an untimely death. If your loved one passed away and you suspect that negligence was a contributing factor, you may collect additional awards covering:
- Any wages that your loved one forfeited because of their passing.
- Costs stemming from your loved one’s funeral.
- Loss of companionship, comfort, and financial protection for the family of the deceased.
Your lawyer will put together a case in pursuit of these and any other awards that you are entitled to. It is up to you to keep an eye out for any signs of mistreatment, and look back on past signs that you possibly dismissed.
Know and Recognize the Signs of Neglect and Abuse
Though you may have caught one or more instances of mistreatment of your loved one, you may now be thinking back to past signs that you possibly missed or dismissed. Some signs that your loved one is mistreated, according to the National Center On Elder Abuse, may include:
- The presence of cuts, bruises, burns, and other indicators of physical trauma.
- Broken bones and other serious injuries, especially if they occur in a relatively short period of time.
- Changes in your loved one’s behavior for the worse, such as a depressed mood.
- The presence of bedsores, which are often a sure sign of neglect.
- A disheveled appearance.
- Poor personal hygiene.
These are only a few of the possible signs of mistreatment. If you see these or any other signs that concern you, call safety officials and then call us.
Improper Type of Medication Used
One of the most important responsibilities a nursing home has with regard to its elderly residents is administering the appropriate medications at very specific times throughout the day. Most elderly residents of nursing homes typically need several different prescriptions administered to ensure their health and safety.
According to research published in the journal, Quality & Safety in Health Care,
almost every single nursing home they studied reported medication errors. Therefore, it remains critical for nursing homes to have carefully established systems and procedures in place to ensure that every resident receives the proper medication at the appropriate times. If an improper type of medication is used for a resident of a nursing home, serious injuries, or even death could occur.
Examples of Improper Medication
There are many ways a nursing home resident could possibly receive improper medication, leading to severe injuries or fatality. Some of these include:
- Receiving completely incorrect medicine.
- Receiving the improper dosage of the correct medication.
- Receiving the improper form of the correct medication (i.e., pill instead of liquid).
- Receiving expired medications.
- Receiving medications that a resident is unable to take (i.e., the pill is too large to swallow).
Improper Medication Use and Nursing Home Neglect
Every nursing home must have a standardized plan of action regarding the administration of medications to its residents to ensure that there are never errors in preparation or administration of prescription medications.
Any medication error that occurs in a nursing home is a completely preventable error that should simply never occur. Sometimes, a medication error is a form of neglect toward their residents, which can result in catastrophic injuries or death. Some of the standards that every nursing home should include in their protocol regarding the distribution of medications include;
- Verification that the proper medication will go to the correct resident.
- All nursing home staff should have the ability to obtain accurate drug information for all medications administered to residents, in case they have any concerns or questions.
- Medications should have accurate and clear labels and markings describing the type of medication, dosage amount, and how often the administration of the medication should occur for every resident.
- Any equipment that a nursing home uses to determine whether or not prescription medication dosages are correct should receive inspections on a frequent basis.
- All nursing home employees should receive extensive and proper training regarding the preparation, administration, and disbursement of medications to elderly residents.
- A chain of command and constant communication should occur between the nursing home employees, the pharmacy, and any prescribing physicians regarding medications for residents.
- The residents should always receive accurate information regarding their prescriptions so they can participate in the process of medication distribution and double-check to see if they were distributed correctly.
Improper Type of Medication Used as a Form of Nursing Home Abuse
The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care says that nursing home staff sometimes administer improper medication to residents in order to restrain them. In these cases, a nursing home staff member will intentionally administer an improper type of medication, such as an antipsychotic medication, to a resident that does not have a prescription for this medication, as a way to control, calm, and immobilize unruly or disruptive residents.
In many cases, as elderly residents develop neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, they may become increasingly agitated or confused, leading nursing home staff members with serious challenges to calm and subdue them and ensure their comfort.
Unfortunately, in some cases, nursing home employees will independently make the decision to administer medications to chemically control these residents. However, these actions are a form of nursing home abuse and are illegal.
Wrongful Death Due To Improper Medication
Even if a nursing home employee did not have the direct intention to administer an incorrect medication to a resident, if they actually distributed an improper type of medication to an elderly resident which results in their death, the family of the resident may have the right to file a wrongful death claim on their behalf.
A wrongful death claim can include compensation for medical bills, funeral costs, and pain and suffering. If you believe your elderly loved one died due to improper medication usage at a nursing home, you may insist upon an autopsy, as many nursing homes attempt to conceal their abusive and negligent actions regarding the death of your loved one.
As we age, our need for prescription medicines rises with every year of our lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 85% of adults aged 60 and over take prescription drugs. The three types of medicines frequently used by the 60-years-and-over age group include lipid-lowering drugs for high cholesterol (46.3%), beta-blockers for high blood pressure and heart disease (24.8%), and anti-diabetic drugs (22.6%).
Families face a hard decision to entrust a loved one to the care of a nursing home. You want to ensure that your relative receives adequate care around the clock. Unfortunately, not every nursing home has high standards. Your loved one or family member in a nursing home may take numerous prescription medicines at the same time, depending on their health issues.
When you arranged for your loved one to live in a nursing home, you have the right to expect a certain standard of care from the staff of that facility. What happens when they fail in their duty of care and make errors in the dosage of prescription medicines, or fail to administer potentially lifesaving drugs altogether? They may face legal ramifications and owe you compensation for your losses.
The Dangers of Incorrect Dosage and Medication Errors
Several potential dangers, some life-threatening, result from administering the incorrect dosage of a prescription drug. Many senior citizens take cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins. Statins can produce some harmful side effects when incorrectly taken. Acute renal failure and diarrhea count as just two examples of medical problems that can arise with a statin overdose.
Overdosing on beta-blockers, another medication used by the elderly, can cause breathing trouble, irregular heartbeat, and even coma. Ingesting too much anti-diabetic medicine can cause cerebral defects and in the worst case, death, according to the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics.
These only provide just a few examples of how incorrect dosage of medicines can cause medical problems for nursing home residents.
Medication errors can come in various forms, not just overdoses. A mix-up of medications can prove just as harmful or even more so. A nursing home resident may receive someone else’s medication, for example, and suffer side effects or allergic reactions as a result. A resident may not receive their medication at all, causing their medical issues to worsen.
Nursing home residents often remain frail and suffer from multiple medical conditions at the same time. Something seemingly harmless for a healthy adult, such as diarrhea caused by the wrong prescription medicine, can result in a serious and life-threatening event for an elderly nursing home resident. A simple mistake made by nursing home staff can quickly escalate into a matter of life and death for your loved one.
The Signs of Incorrect Dosage
Stay vigilant and observe any changes in your loved one. Do you notice any major changes in their demeanor? They may seem lethargic or confused, perhaps sleeping most of their day. They may suddenly present with unexplained medical changes or complications. Some or all of these changes may result from the incorrect dosage of medicines or other medication errors.
Changes in the demeanor of a resident or medical complications may not always result from a genuine mistake made by nursing staff. They can result from a nursing home deliberately using prescription drugs to sedate and restrain residents. A study by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) revealed that almost 20% of nursing home residents in the United States receive more than the required amount of antipsychotic drugs daily.
When nursing home staff gives out the wrong medication, administers an incorrect dosage, or uses medication excessively to restrain or sedate, your loved one may suffer serious and potentially irreversible harm.
Proving Nursing Home Negligence
Administering the wrong prescription medicine or incorrect dosage may qualify as medical negligence. Proving nursing home negligence can potentially involve a lengthy and challenging process. It involves, among other aspects, obtaining the nursing home resident’s medical records and consulting experts on the case. If the nursing home has acted negligently, the resident or you as a family member can file a personal injury or malpractice lawsuit.
Medical Care Expenses
Medication errors in nursing homes seem to be common. According to the American Journal of Hospital Pharmacy in the U.S. alone, thousands of preventable medication errors happen every single year in a nursing home setting.
Medication errors in nursing homes are dangerous to seniors’ health, who risk devastating adverse effects from receiving the wrong medication. Medication errors can also be extremely costly, causing unnecessary medical care expenses for nursing home residents and their families.
A study from the Department of Health and Human Services regarding skilled nursing services revealed that not only were 59% of adverse effects from wrong medication clearly or likely avoidable, they also resulted in a huge cost due to hospitalization of patients. In one month alone, the cost of medical errors reached millions of dollars.
Medication errors and subsequent medical care expenses stem from different issues, such as inadequate care, inadequate monitoring of residents, and failure or delay of care.
Health Effects From Medication Errors
Medical errors in nursing homes can come in several ways. A senior might receive the wrong medication, intended for another nursing home resident. They could also receive too much of their own medication, resulting in a dangerous overdose. Alternatively, a senior may receive too little medication, which can be ineffective in controlling their health condition.
If nursing home staff is skipping or forgetting to administer doses of medication, health conditions may worsen. There can be many adverse effects from taking the wrong medication, such as:
- Unwanted side effects
- Dangerous drug interactions
- Worsening medical conditions
- Life-threatening drug allergies
Even unintentional medication errors should not happen in the nursing home and can be nursing home abuse. In some cases, staff may deliberately give a senior too much sedative medication to make them easier to handle. This is not only illegal but can have dire consequences. Seniors who are over-sedated can be prone to accidents, for example slips and falls.
If your loved one suffered from injuries and incurred medical care expenses from receiving the wrong medication in the nursing home, you can contact a nursing home lawyer and find out if you have legal recourse against the nursing home.
Signs of Medication-Related Abuse
If you suspect that your loved one is getting the wrong medication, or receiving the wrong dose of their medications, you may be able to observe some tell-tale signs. Your loved one may seem sedated or unduly fatigued, for example. They may also suddenly suffer from new side effects or unexplained worsening of their health conditions due to taking the wrong medication. They might seem confused or disoriented.
Actions You Can Take
If you notice that something is amiss, you should speak to the nursing home staff. You can ask to see a log of the medications given to your loved one. Bear in mind that staff may have altered logs in order to protect themselves.
If you have already incurred expenses such as medical treatments and hospitalization due to your loved one receiving wrong medications, you could hold the nursing home to account and might be able to receive compensation for your expenses. It can be helpful to discuss your particular case with a nursing home lawyer.
The Cost of Medication Errors
For an elderly nursing home resident who is relying on their daily medications, medication errors can be devastating to their health and even prove fatal. A nursing home is responsible for ensuring that staff is suitably trained and qualified to administer correct medication and dosages and that each resident receives their medications on the day and at the time that they are supposed to.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Nursing Home Reform Act from 1987 states that residents in a skilled nursing home must have their medical needs met. Any mistakes by nursing home staff can turn out extremely costly, with the resident and family potentially saddled with medical expenses and hospitalization costs that could have easily been avoided.
According to the Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives, preventable medication errors may affect millions of patients each year and cost billions of dollars. Some seniors may have lasting damage from drug overdoses or receiving the wrong medication, requiring medical intervention indefinitely into the future.
Prescription Drugs Given at the Wrong Time
Nursing homes can provide a great option for elderly adults who require assistance with their daily needs. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, staff members at nursing homes should receive special training to assist with daily needs and administer prescription medications as needed and help with other aspects of daily life. Additionally, nursing homes offer social opportunities, recreational activities, and more.
Sadly, mistakes can still occur that can jeopardize the health of residents. One problem revolves around mistakes with medication administration. StatPearls reported that thousands of people die each year due to prescription drug errors. In a nursing home, a caregiver or staff member administering the medication may become confused. Sometimes a wrong medicine is administered to a patient or prescription drugs are given at the wrong time.
While there are several ways medicine administration can go wrong in addition to prescription drugs given at the wrong time, any error can be detrimental to the health of the intended recipient of a drug. Quality and Safety in Health Care details ways nursing home administrators can prevent these kinds of errors.
The health effects of prescription drugs given at the wrong time vary in severity but can be serious. In minor cases, a resident could experience mostly benign side effects. In severe cases, a resident could suffer from permanent damage or even death.
If a medication is given too early, there could be residual amounts of this prescription drug already in the bloodstream from a previous dose. This could increase the amount of the drug in the body and lead to potentially harmful effects.
Conversely, if a person is in need of a medicine and this prescription drug is given too late, this can also be very dangerous. Medicines can also interact with food, different drugs, and anything else that is ingested. This can cause a number of side effects. Prescription drugs are therefore designed to be administered at certain times to minimize negative side effects and maximize intended effectiveness.
There is a reason that prescription medications have very specific directions, and doctors should review patient files to keep them appropriately updated, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. While medications can be helpful in treating disease, they can also be dangerous when misused. Always be careful to follow prescription instructions very carefully and consult with a doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions. If your loved one is living in a nursing home and someone else may be responsible for their prescriptions, be sure they are following protocol as the safety of your loved one is at risk.
Legal Action and Potentially Recoverable Compensation
If you or a loved one were given prescription drugs at the wrong time, it can cause suffering in different ways. It is possible that this occurred due to the negligence or fault of another party. If another party may have been liable, you could be able to take legal action. While every case is different, victims of prescription drugs given at the wrong time can sometimes recover financial compensation for their losses. Potential compensation includes money awarded for pain and suffering and reimbursement for expensive medical bills directly related to the medical error.
You have the option to discuss your case with a team of lawyers in order to better understand your situation and the options available to you and your family in these unfortunate cases. Additionally, there is a statute of limitations in many jurisdictions, meaning victims may have a limited time to act following the discovery of an error.
Residents not Given Enough Food or Water with Medication
As seniors age, they lose muscle strength throughout their body, including the loss of strength in muscles that assist with swallowing. Other seniors suffer from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease actually causes sufferers to lose the ability to remember how to swallow correctly.
Strokes, brain injuries, and other neurological disorders can also result in an elderly resident of a nursing home remaining unable to correctly swallow medication. In other cases, elderly residents must take their medication with food; otherwise, they will suffer from stomach issues such as indigestion or reflux.
In all of these cases, a nursing home has a duty and responsibility to ensure that elderly residents receive the proper amount of food or water with their medication in order for it to effectively treat their medical conditions. If residents are not given enough food or water with the medication, they may choke or suffer additional injuries.
Providing Water with Medication
According to the National Institute on Aging, nursing homes should always have a plan of care for every single nursing home resident, which will include information regarding any dysphagia, or swallowing issue, that a resident suffers from. According to Clinical Interventions in Aging, dysphagia is one of the largest factors related to choking in the elderly and can occur simply due to weak muscles, or due to the body not remembering how to actually swallow as a result of neurodegenerative issues.
If you have an elderly loved one in a nursing home, make sure that they always receive water with their medication when appropriate to help them swallow their prescriptions and ensure that they receive the proper treatments for their medical conditions.
A resident’s plan of care should always receive consistent updating and continual assessment to make a determination regarding dysphagia. In some cases, choking due to the inability to swallow medication results directly from the resident not receiving water to help them actually swallow the medication.
Providing Food with Medication
Some medications must be taken with food as they are irritants to the stomach and can cause additional injury or damage. Food oftentimes protects the stomach from the full impact and irritation particular medicines cause.
Nursing homes have a responsibility to ensure that a nursing home resident takes the proper food with their medication. As the United States Food and Drug Administration indicates, some foods interact negatively with different medications causing serious injuries or even death in some cases. Nursing homes should make certain that the medications that residents must take with foods are actually the proper foods with no interactions.
Nursing Home Neglect
The reasons that some families make the difficult decision to place their elderly seniors in a nursing home often revolves around the fact that they are simply unable to continue to care for them properly. They expect a caregiver to provide constant monitoring during the delivery of proper medications with appropriate food and water.
When nursing homes remain understaffed and overworked, the employees may not take the time and care to properly administer medication to all of its residents. When residents are not given enough food or water with medication, resulting in choking, additional injuries, or death, the nursing home’s failure classifies as neglect.
What To Do if Your Elderly Loved One Did not Receive Enough Food or Water with Their Medication
If you discover that your elderly loved one in a nursing home was not given enough food or water with their medication, causing an injury, a medical condition, or death, you should immediately contact the management of the nursing home to report the incident.
You can consult Adult Protective Services or even law enforcement, depending on the facts and circumstances. If you believe nursing home neglect occurred, you should consider removing your elderly loved one from the nursing home for their own safety.
Signs of Overmedication
According to research by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, health professionals in America may overmedicate elderly adults in nursing home settings. Per the statistics, residents may receive too much medication or stay on medication for too long. Still, the question remains, how can you spot the signs of overmedication? Below you will find some symptoms that indicate that your elderly relative or elderly loved one may suffer from overmedication:
- Diminished motor skills and coordination problems: Here, you will notice a subtle or significant delay in fine motor control and your loved one’s inability to coordinate their movement with speech. Additionally, coordination problems caused by overmedication typically affect their ability to perform everyday tasks efficiently.
- Changes in sleep patterns: If your loved one has trouble sleeping, even after staying up throughout the day, you may want to pay attention to their prescription drugs. Sometimes, overmedication may lead to consistent grogginess during the day and too little or too much sleep at night.
- Memory problems: A sudden change in your loved one’s ability to concentrate on the simplest situations and recollect past events may cause reason for worry.
- Unexplained weight loss and gain: Overmedication may affect your loved one’s physical appearance. Unexplained weight loss and gain may classify as evidence of an adverse reaction of taking too many drugs and the effect it has on the body.
- Recurring injuries from falls: Due to their consistent inebriated state, your relative may suffer mild to severe injuries from slip and fall accidents. If you notice that they seem more accident-prone, you should seek a doctor immediately.
- Lack of personal hygiene: When overmedication results in low energy levels, your loved one may have a complete lack of interest in taking care of themselves. Their actions may include refusing to brush their teeth, taking a bath, using deodorant, dressing up, and keeping up with normal personal hygiene activities.
- Physical complications: Frequent skin flushes, rashes, bodily aches and pains, abdominal pains, sudden headaches, dry mouth, and ulcers all may signal overmedication in the elderly.
What Causes Overmedication?
Reasons for overmedication in elderly adults living in nursing home facilities may include:
- Doctor or pharmacist errors: A common example of medical malpractice alludes to the errors that occur when the doctor prescribes or dispenses the drug.
- Failure to review medical history: When a doctor fails to review their patient’s medical records, overmedication may occur since they remain unaware of the existence of other prescriptions.
- Personal error in use or dosage: Prescription drugs used incorrectly or taken in the wrong dosage can lead to overmedication.
- Continuing to take the medication even after the stipulated period: Taking the drugs long after doctor’s orders may give rise to adverse reactions.
Preventing Overmedication in the Elderly
Overmedication can lead to fatal results, so communicate with your doctors and medical health providers about every medication your loved one takes. Additionally, remember to:
- Report all symptoms and signs of overmedication immediately to the doctor, even if they seem trivial or unrelated.
- Keep all prescribed drugs organized and note the dosages and frequency. This includes vitamins and over-the-counter drugs. Make sure to ask your doctor about drug interactions and the steps to take when a reaction occurs.
- Research any medication the doctor prescribes and ask questions. You should inquire about what to do when you miss a dose, when to take the drug, and when to lower the dose or discontinue taking the medication.
- Educate yourself about drug dependence and addiction.
Staff Crushing Pill Against Manufacturer’s Warning
Many elderly nursing home residents remain unable to swallow certain pills, leading nursing home employees to crush their pills or dissolve them in water as a way for them to receive their medications.
However, if the nursing home staff crushes a pill against the manufacturer’s warning, they risk making the medication completely ineffective or even dangerous. If you believe your elderly loved one suffered injuries as a result of their nursing home crushing a pill against the manufacturer’s warning, you may have the right to pursue justice on their behalf.
Dangers of Crushing Medications Against Manufacturer’s Warnings
Ultimately, crushing a pill against a manufacturer’s warning can result in a major change in how the medication actually works and functions.
Some medications are specifically designed to release over a period of time, such as several hours. Other medications contain special coatings to protect the stomach or to protect the active ingredient in the medication from suffering damage due to stomach acid.
If a nursing home staff employee crushes a medication incorrectly or inappropriately, that medication could release into an elderly resident’s system all at once, instead of over many hours. Conversely, doing so could make the medication completely ineffective as the stomach acid neutralizes the medication.
Additionally, if crushed, a pill could have less efficacy because the dosage amount is now not correct, or could become dangerous or even toxic if the medication enters the person’s body all at once.
Nursing Home Responsibilities Regarding Medication Preparation and Administration
There are many instances where a medication remains perfectly safe to crush or open, mix with food such as applesauce, or mix with liquids in order to make it easier for an elderly resident to the consumer.
Every prescription medication will come with its own information leaflet, which the nursing home employee should always refer to prior to making an attempt to crush a pill. If there is any question or confusion, the nursing home employee should visit with a pharmacist or the prescribing physician in order to receive authorization to crush a pill prior to administering this medication to a nursing home resident.
If there is a circumstance in which a resident remains unable to swallow a specific medication, a physician should receive notice of this condition in order to either change the prescription or make another medical suggestion.
A nursing home staff employee should never make independent discretionary decisions regarding crushing a pill against a manufacturer’s warning without prior authorization from a pharmacist or physician. Additionally, many manufacturers will specifically address exactly how a nursing home resident or patient may crush a pill so that it never loses efficacy.
According to a study published in the BMJ, when there were warning signs, and when staff members were educated on the effects of improperly crushing medicine, the crushing error rate decreased. Therefore, it is the nursing home’s responsibility—and in their best interest—to educate the staff on crushing medication.
Wrongful Death as a Result of Medication Errors
According to Johns Hopkins, medical errors, including medication errors, are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., with more than 250,000 people dying.
Certain types of medications are needed for the survival of nursing home residents. If the nursing home staff crushes these pills against the manufacturer’s warnings, many residents may suffer upset stomachs immediately after the dosage due to the flood of chemicals in their body, and then have a complete lack of protection for the remained of the day.
In many of these cases, a patient can actually die due to the lack of medication properly entering their body due to the staff crushing a pill against the manufacturer’s warning.
If your elderly loved one died in a nursing home, and you suspect that their death may have a connection to the staff crushing a pill against a manufacturer’s warning, you may have the right to pursue justice through a wrongful death claim.
While no amount of money will ever make up for your loved one’s death, you have a right to receive justice and also compensation for any outstanding medical bills and funeral costs, as well as for the pain and suffering your loved one endured.
If you suspect that your elderly loved one died as a result of improper administration of medication of any kind in a nursing home, make sure to insist upon an autopsy for your loved one, even if a government agency remains unwilling to fund this autopsy. Many nursing homes attempt to shield themselves from liability regarding the death of one of their residents, and an autopsy might determine if your loved one died to a medication error.
What If a Medication Error Leads to Death in a Nursing Home?
If a medication error leads to death in a nursing home, the resident’s family has a right to file a wrongful death lawsuit and to receive compensation for the medical malpractice that occurred due to the nursing home’s negligence.
Medication Standard of Care
Nursing homes are responsible for meeting their residents’ physical and emotional needs, which includes the distribution of medications to their residents. Doctors prescribe nursing home residents specific medications for their medical conditions, and the residents rely on the nursing home staff to administer their medication correctly.
A medication error is when the nursing home staff administers a resident’s medication in a way that is either different from the doctor’s orders or different from the manufacturer’s instructions.
Medication Administration in Nursing Homes
In many nursing home facilities, medication distribution occurs through nursing home staff members during a “med pass.” This term describes the passing, or dispensing, of medications to residents under a doctor’s orders and following the manufacturer’s requirements for dosage and frequency. Licensed nurses or staff members supervised by licensed nurses handle med passes. Licensed nurses must organize all of the medications in advance, document the administration of the medication, and then finally perform the actual “med pass.” This process can take several hours to complete.
“Med Pass” Medication Errors in Nursing Homes
Many different types of medication errors can occur during the “med pass” process in nursing homes, including the following:
- Cutting or slicing a pill in half incorrectly. Some tablets and capsules clearly indicate that the medication should remain whole.
- Providing inadequate food or antacids along with the medication. Some medications require the resident to eat food along with the pill or capsule, or require an antacid.
- Providing inadequate liquids along with the medication. Some medications are difficult to swallow without liquid or have specific instructions to take with liquid. Without proper hydration, a nursing home resident may react poorly to the medication.
- Failure to shake, mix, or roll the medication correctly before dispensing. Some medications require specific preparation, including mixing, shaking, or rolling. Some examples include insulin or other suspension medications.
- Improper dispensation of eye drops. This type of medicine can be more difficult to administer, as a nursing staff member must ensure that the drops go directly into the eye for a specific period of time.
- Failing to ensure that a patient takes a pill sublingually. Some medications are placed under the tongue instead of swallowing or chewing.
Other Medication Errors in Nursing Homes
Other errors in medication administration that can occur in nursing homes that may injure patients, or lead to death, can include the following:
- Dispensing expired medication.
- Giving too much or too little medication.
- Skipping medications.
- Giving an incorrect medication that has a similar name or similar packaging to the correct medication.
- Giving medication that the patient is allergic to.
- Using an incorrect administration technique for the medication.
- Giving medication at incorrect times or incorrect dates.
- Giving the wrong strength, the wrong forum, or the entirely wrong medication.
- Documenting the dosage of medication incorrectly.
- Failure to monitor the resident after dispensing the medication.
- Failure to follow a doctor’s specific orders regarding the medication.
- Ignoring or changing a medication order.
- Borrowing medication from one resident to give to another.
- Stealing medication for the nursing home staff’s personal use or to sell for profit.
Medication Errors as Nursing Home Abuse
While medication errors can be a form of negligence, there are unfortunate circumstances where medication distributed improperly is a form of abuse. In some situations, the improper use of antipsychotic medications allows nursing home staff to restrain residents through chemical means. Staff may improperly use these strong medications to calm and immobilize some residents who have dementia, which can cause aggressive behaviors, agitation, or wandering.
Wrongful Death as a Result of Medication Errors
If a medication error led to the death of your loved one, you may have the right to receive compensation for medical bills, funeral expenses, lost wages, and the pain and suffering for those who are the survivors.
Always ensure that you request an autopsy for your loved one, even if the local government is unable or unwilling to fund one.
Call (800) 842-6336 to Schedule a Free Consultation with our Medication Error Attorneys
At Pintas & Mullins, our nursing home abuse lawyers are here to help demand justice on behalf of nursing home abuse victims. If someone you love has been victimized by a medication error, you can trust in our lawyers to fight for their rights. We are attorneys for injured persons and have handled cases in all 50 states. We will even fly to meet with you or your loved one.