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Nursing home and prescription errors: Is your family member a victim?

In early February of this year, six residents of an Illinois assisted living facility were hospitalized. According to the Chicago Tribune, law enforcement began investigating the incident after one of the patients passed away. Their efforts found that elderly woman had toxic levels of a painkilling drug in her system. Two of the other residents who were hospitalized have also died, though the causes of their deaths are still under investigation.

The woman’s death has been ruled a homicide as police work with the nursing home facility to determine what took place. As any nursing home abuse lawyer in McHenry IL would know, these incidents often occur due to negligent and even malicious staff members. Understanding how it happens and looking for the warning signs can help family members protect their loved ones.

Types of elder abuse

Unfortunately, the elderly are some of the most vulnerable when it comes to abuse and neglect. These behaviors are often evident in nursing home and assisted living facilities, where families trust that medical professionals and other staff will care for their loved one. As the National Center on Elder Abuse points out, it is hard to pinpoint how many people suffer elder abuse every year because many cases go unreported.

Abuse can take many forms in elder care facilities, including physically harming a resident through the use of force or emotionally hurting a resident through verbal or nonverbal acts. Neglecting to provide adequate care of the resident is also considered a form of abuse. A prescription error, which is suspected to be the cause of death with the residents who died in the above-mentioned incident, could constitute neglect.

Medication errors

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates that roughly 5 percent of all hospitalized patients suffer an adverse drug event. As many as 700,000 people visit an emergency room every year due to a medication mistake, the agency reports, and the elderly are specifically at risk of suffering an injury.

As any nursing home abuse lawyer in McHenry IL has seen, there are a number of ways that a medication error can take place. In many cases, a patient either receives too much or too little of a drug due to a mistake in dosing. A nurse could misread a chart or a physician could prescribe the incorrect amount. A diagnostic error can also lead to a medication harming a patient. For example, a doctor diagnoses a patient with arthritis and prescribes painkillers. However, the diagnosis was incorrect, and the patient suffers adverse reactions to the medication.

Why it happens in nursing homes

A medicine mistake is actually one of the most common problems in assisted living facilities. There are state inspection agencies tasked with identifying these institutions’ medication error rates. That rate must remain below a certain level, or the facility could face administrative and legal sanctions.

The American Journal of Medicine published a report that found the following causes of prescription errors and adverse drug reactions in a nursing home facility:

  • Failure to monitor the efficacy of a drug

  • Failure to consider how a drug will interact with other medications

  • Administering the wrong dose of a drug

  • Delayed or failed response to signs of toxicity

According to the American Medical Directors Association, a doctor’s attitude could also result in a devastating mistake. For example, some physicians prefer not to use non-medicinal treatments for certain conditions even though there may be viable options. Others refuse to listen to a pharmacist’s suggestions for alternative medicines that are less likely to interfere with other drugs a patient may be taking.

Lastly, an assisted living facility would ideally have an information system that easily tracks and monitors the drugs a patient may be taking. However, many institutions lack a comprehensive process for identifying, monitoring and evaluating a resident’s condition and medications, leaving room for serious error.

Tips for choosing a facility

When researching a facility for a loved one, it is imperative that family members do their homework. Consumer Reports advises people looking into facilities to first assess the overall environment at the home. Families should watch for genuine, respectful interaction between staff and residents. It is a good sign when there are many residents in common areas and participating in activities.

There are some red flags families should recognize immediately, such as a resistance on the part of administrators to hand over residence rules and fee structure. Also, families may want to make sure that should their loved one be hospitalized, there will still be a room at the facility upon their return. An unannounced visit may also give a family member insight into how the home runs on a daily basis.

The signs of abuse

One of the most important things a family can do is to recognize the signs of elder abuse. When it comes to neglect, a family member may notice that a loved one has lost weight inexplicably or appears dehydrated. The NCEA recommends that people keep an eye on the resident’s physical condition. When illnesses or injuries are untreated, it could be a sign that a medication is not working or the staff is neglecting to properly care for the patient.

Family members should always listen to their loved one’s concerns and act immediately upon suspicion of abuse. The NCEA advises families to contact Adult Protective Services for assistance. Additionally, anyone who suspects that a family member has been mistreated should contact a nursing home abuse lawyer in McHenry IL.


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