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Report: Nursing Homes Not Accountable for Oversedation

There have been many success stories when it comes to use of antipsychotic drugs for those wrestling with serious mental disorders, such as schizophrenia or manic depression.

However, when those same medications are given to older patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other various forms of dementia, the outcome can be fatal. In fact, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has slapped these pharmaceuticals with a black box warning, noting the heightened risk of infections, heart failure and even death. And still, there are hundreds of thousands of nursing homes that continue to use them on elderly dementia patients.

Two years ago, the federal government initiated an effort to push these facilities to slash their use of antispychotic drugs for this purpose. In most places, the campaign has been relatively effective, with use dropping below 20 percent. However, new research indicates that when nursing homes ignore the potential health risks, there are few sanctions or consequence.

That’s according to a recent National Public Radio report, the second of a two-part series analyzing the effect of these drugs on the nation’s elderly.

Hollywood nursing home negligence lawyers recognize the “benefit” to nursing homes is that when patients are given these medications, they tend to be easier to control. This makes sense because they are essentially sedated. This is sometimes referred to as a “chemical restraint.” However, given the potential for patient harm these drugs pose, it’s clear facilities are placing profits before people.

One way around the use of these drugs, researchers say, is better training. Workers who can identify reasons behind challenging behavior – and individualized ways of responding – can significantly reduce the use of antipsychotic prescription use. Of course, that requires nursing homes to invest in the additional training and to maintain an adequate staff to properly respond. That’s something a fair amount of facilities don’t do.

An interactive database on NPR shows many Florida facilities have a higher-than-average rate of antipsychotic drug use compared to other places. The state average is 21.7 percent, compared to the national average of 19 percent. One facility in West Palm Beach has a rate of 33.7 percent. In Sunrise, a facility has a rate of 24.7 percent. In Delray Beach, the rate is 23.7 percent for one center. Examples of these significantly higher rates abound.

Despite the fact the Nursing Home Reform Act, passed nearly three decades ago, bars the use of chemical restraints and only allows for antispychotic medications when medically necessary, these practices continue. Advocates for safe elder care argue the problem is the government has approached the issue as “partners” with the nursing home industry, rather than enforcing the law.

When a nursing home doles out unnecessary medications to patients, penalties range from issuance of a correction plan to removal from Medicaid and Medicare programs. However, the harsher penalties are “almost never” given for this offense, according to NPR reporters.

However, those behind the government program say it’s an ongoing process, with a goal of reducing antipsychotic drug use among elderly patients by an additional 15 percent in the next two years.

But even if that happens – and that’s a big “IF” – it will still mean nearly 250,000 patients are getting medication that is not only not necessary but possibly fatal.

Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Nursing Homes Rarely Penalized for Oversedating Patients, Dec. 10, 2014, By Ina Jaffe, Health News Florida, WUSF

More Blog Entries:

Overmedication of Patients a Form of Nursing Home Abuse, Dec. 15, 2014, Hollywood Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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