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Nursing Home Faces Civil Suit, Workers Arrested, For Fatal Medication Mistake

A medication error reportedly led to the death of a nursing home resident in Ohio, resulting in criminal charges and a civil nursing home abuse lawsuit. 

The death happened two years ago, but misdemeanor criminal charges have just been filed against three of the workers, while decedent’s family has filed a negligence lawsuit against the nursing home facility for vicarious liability of its employees, in addition to issues with prescription protocols.

The family’s wrongful death lawsuit alleges the nursing home resident died after he was inadvertently given morphine instead of another medication, and then allegedly tried to cover up those errors by treating his overdose on their own. Prosecutors say the charges of patient abuse and tampering with records stem not just from the mistakes that were made with the medication, but the failure to take appropriate action once the serious error was discovered. 

Plaintiffs in their lawsuit allege they were not notified right away that the morphine was given by mistake, and that the decedent’s medical records were altered two days after he died. They assert that had the medication error not occurred, decedent had a life expectancy of another 13 years.

It’s not clear based on the filings whether the medication was given strictly in error, or whether an employee may have given it in an effort to sedate the patient over the night shift. What we do know is that nursing home medication errors are far too common.

One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association indicated a nursing home error rate of more than 21 percent. Some of the most-frequently occurring errors included:

  • Wrong administration techniques (including crushing medication and not supervising intake);
  • Wrong time errors (administering medicine at least 1 hour early or late);
  • Providing the incorrect dose of medication.

That is a 1 in 5 chance with every dose of medication that something is liable to go seriously wrong.

Another study published by the American Journal of Medicine on the incidence and preventability of adverse drug events in nursing homes revealed that out of 29,000 nursing home residents studied over the course of 12 months, there were nearly 550 “drug events.” Of those, 1 was deadly, 31 were life-threatening and 38 percent were serious. Study authors opined there are 800,000 medication errors annually in long-term care facilities.

An analysis by the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting Prevention reveals some of the top reasons why medication errors occur include:

  • Poor communications among the team;
  • Poor handwriting;
  • Verbal orders;
  • Improper drug selection;
  • Missing medications;
  • Incorrect scheduling;
  • More than one pharmacy handling orders;
  • Drug interactions;
  • Look alike/ sound alike drugs;
  • Hectic work environment;
  • Lack of computer decision support.

Regardless of the reason, these errors can can serious and lasting harm to patients. In some instances, such as this one out of Ohio, medication errors can cause or contribute to a patient’s death. In these scenarios, it’s important for patients and families to consult with an experienced nursing home negligence attorney.

Nursing homes can and should do more to prevent medication errors at nursing homes by:

  • Avoiding verbal medication orders except in emergencies;
  • Avoiding abbreviations for medications;
  • Informing patients of all reasons for medications;
  • Using special caution with high-risk medications;
  • Reporting errors and adverse drug events immediately, so that they can be properly addressed and facilities can learn from them.

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:

Civil lawsuit, criminal charges facing former nursing home employees accused in resident’s morphine death, June 29, 2017, By Elizabeth Leis Newman, McKnight’s

More Blog Entries:

Could New Health Care Bill Give Rise to More Nursing Home Abuse?, July 15, 2017, Nursing Home Negligence Lawyer Blog

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