prescription drugs

Is the Nursing Home Giving Your Loved One Antipsychotic Drugs Unnecessarily?

The federal government has strict requirements for nursing home facilities to ensure the protection and proper care of the residents. State regulators inspect Illinois nursing home facilities approximately every 15 months, but in spite of this attention, a non-profit elder advocacy group reports that many critical health areas are deficient. The inspector general of Health and Human Services reports that as many as 33 percent of Medicare nursing home patients suffer from preventable harm, such as the damage caused by the over-prescription of antipsychotic medication.

Federal law requires that a patient or family member must provide informed consent before an antipsychotic drug may be given. Often, drugs are prescribed for patients incapable of communicating when there are no loved ones present to provide or refuse consent. This type of medication is intended for patients who have severe mental illness, and is not suitable for the elderly or those with dementia. Side effects often include anxiety, confusion, agitation and disorientation. In some cases, it can cause death.

Understaffed facilities often over-prescribe medication

The contributing factors that lead to over-medication often include facility staffing issues. Many facilities relegate residents’ medical care to certified nursing assistants who have little training or experience. The amount of patient care they are expected to deliver may exceed their abilities. The high level of care required by the patients and the inadequate number of staff present has the potential to lead to nursing home abuse and neglect.

A health care provider who is not present to observe nursing home residents often bases prescriptions on the evidence presented in the charts. When a patient is difficult, rather than discovering the root cause, a minimally-trained worker may influence the physician to prescribe antipsychotic medication to make the patient easier to manage. Facilities with a large number of Medicare patients have a low rate of reimbursement, further discouraging quality physician care for residents.

Drug companies influence doctors’ prescriptions

Drug companies who aggressively market their medications to nursing homes also influence the over-prescribing of antipsychotics to the frail and elderly. At times, physicians have received compensation from the companies when the drug is prescribed. The FDA must approve of the use of the drugs by the older population, and when this is by-passed or ignored, the company and the physician can be held liable for health problems arising from the prescription.

Legal justice should be pursued when medication errors result in serious harm to a nursing home resident. An Illinois attorney who is knowledgeable of the state and federal guidelines for nursing homes can provide legal advice on the best way to proceed to ensure full compensation.