Those who live in nursing homes are often unable to live on their own or with family, requiring a level of care that only trained professionals can provide. With this need comes a strict duty of care regarding the appropriate actions that nursing home staff are compelled by law to take. This doesn’t stop medication errors from being made and the use of unauthorized chemical restraints in nursing homes — both of which are illegal and can frequently be deadly.
Studies estimate that 800,000 medication-related injuries occur in nursing homes yearly, which means that the actual number of medication errors in nursing homes must be much higher. If facilities give chemical restraints to patients that do not qualify for their strictly defined usage, the rate of injury can be much higher. When a nursing home resident is injured by the careless or illegal administration of medicines by a nursing home, it may be cause for a malpractice lawsuit.
Why Medication Errors Occur in Nursing Homes
Not all medication errors qualify as negligence. There is a certain amount of flexibility in nursing home administration under federal law — federal authorities will only issue a citation to nursing facilities that exceed a 5 percent medication error rate.
Some examples of medication errors that don’t typically constitute negligence include:
- Giving a medication a few minutes outside of the time window
- Not properly mixing a medication
- Not administering eyedrops properly
Source: Unsplash, photo by Laurynas Mereckas
Serious Errors in Medication
However, some errors can lead to serious medical consequences. One error of this kind is enough to lead to a health citation. In the worst cases, they can cause tremors, comas, confusion, unnecessary pain and suffering — even death.
Serious errors include:
- Nursing home pharmacy or staff gives resident the wrong type or quantity of medication
- Doctor or pharmacy doesn’t ask about or take into account resident allergies or contraindications before prescribing medication
- Doctor prescribes the wrong medication
- Staff leaves the medication for the resident without verifying that it is taken
- Medication is administered in the wrong way
- Pharmacy or staff gives the resident expired medication
The Most Dangerous Medications to Get Wrong
While some medical regimens can withstand a certain amount of fluctuation, others contain drugs that must be given in the exact quantity and to the exact specifications prescribed. In the case of the following, even slight administration errors may be disastrous:
- Antipsychotics and antidepressants (lorazepam)
- Pain medicines (opiates)
- Anticoagulants (warfarin)
- Diuretics (furosemide)
- Anti-seizure medicines (clonazepam)
The Case of Chemical Restraints
FDA estimates put the number of nursing home deaths from the use of illegal chemical restraints at around 15,000 per year.
No nursing home resident may be given these medications without consent, and this consent will always supersede a doctor or nursing facility recommendation. If the resident cannot make the decision for him or herself, the decision defaults to a legal proxy — and this decision again cannot be overruled.
However, sometimes chemical restraints are given unnecessarily, for the convenience of the staff instead of resident safety. This type of use is illegal and can be deadly.
The most common chemical restraints are as follows:
- Antipsychotics — these medications are used to treat anxiety and to calm those experiencing mania or psychosis, but their side effects can include fatal heart attacks and other serious conditions
- Benzodiazepines — this class of medication includes muscle relaxers and sedatives normally used to help those suffering from panic attacks or insomnia
- Dissociative anesthetics — these medications trigger a hallucinatory state where a resident’s perceptions of sight and sound are altered, which may cause unintended harm or accidents
Source: Unsplash, photo by Yan Berthemy
When to Consult with an Experienced Chemical Restraint Injury Attorney
Most medication errors are avoidable, as are the use of chemical restraints, and some may lead to serious injury. And both are often due to a lack of appropriate staffing or training, causing responsibility to rest on the nursing facility itself.
The best course of action if you feel that nursing home negligence or malpractice has caused harm to a loved one is to consult with skilled attorneys like those at McEldrew Young Purtell as soon as possible. With 30 years of experience in medical malpractice, McEldrew Young Purtell is well suited to evaluate the situation and help determine if the injury suffered involved acts of negligence or malpractice.