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Medication Errors in Nursing Homes Cause Serious Harm

A nurse in Alabama recently pleaded guilty to elder abuse after she reportedly failed to inform her employer that she had committed a medication error by giving a nursing home patient the wrong drug. pills6

The 53-year-old licensed practical nurse (LPN) pleaded guilty to reckless abuse of a protected person. Although it was not an intentional act, the fact that the nurse failed to report her action put the patient at serious risk. In fact, the patient almost died.

This kind of medication error in nursing homes is a serious and unfortunately common problem. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) defines “medication error” as any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medicine is in control of the health care professional, patient or consumer.

Top causes of nursing home medication errors include:

  • Too rushed/ busy environment
  • Nursing fatigue
  • Poor/ illegible handwriting
  • Missed or mistaken physician’s orders
  • Working with too many medications
  • Similar drug names or medication appearance

It’s a major problem in nursing homes, which are notoriously under-staffed. Plus, patients often can’t advocate on their own behalf, which means the systemic checks and balances are lacking.

Researchers have concluded that 7,000 Americans die every year from medication errors. Although the rates of mistake vary greatly from facility-to-facility, it has been found that one medication error happens per hospital every single day.

Some examples of medication errors include:

  • Crushing or slicing medication that should not be split.
  • Not administering enough fluids with medications (common for elderly patients).
  • Inadequate antacids or foods with medication.
  • Failure to properly mix, shake or “roll” the medicine. This results in patient not receiving enough of the active ingredient in the drug.
  • Allowing patients to swallow medication whole that is supposed to be chewed or absorbed on the tongue.
  • Administering too much medication.
  • Administering the incorrect medication or the incorrect form of the medication.
  • Using medication that is expired.
  • Administering medicine from an outdated or expired physician order.
  • Medication “borrowing” – allowing one patient to “borrow” the medication of another, usually when a facility is short-staffed and ill-equipped. Leads to confusion and mistakes.

It’s worth noting that lawsuits stemming from these actions are typically going to be classified as “medical malpractice,” as opposed to general negligence. This matters because medical malpractice cases tend to be more highly involved, require expert witnesses and have stricter notification requirements.

In the recent Alabama case, the 53-year-old nurse reportedly gave the patient a large dose of a narcotic pain medication – instead of the cough medicine that the patient was supposed to receive.

Instead of notifying the center of her error, she altered treatment records to indicate she had given the right medicine. As a result, the patient suffered an overdose of the narcotic medication. It wasn’t discovered until the next nurse came on shift. Patient had to be rushed to the hospital where she stayed for several days in an intensive care unit before she was released.

Prosecutors alleged that had the nurse reported the mistake right away, patient would not have suffered as she did. The LPN faces up to 10 years in prison. Her sentencing hearing is to be held in May.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Alabama nurse pleads guilty to elder abuse; did not report giving the wrong drug, March 9, 2016, By Kent Faulk, AL.com

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Report: Nursing Homes Struggle to Care for Obese Residents, Jan. 3, 2016, Orlando Nursing Home Injury Lawyer Blog

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