Medication Mismanagement in Nursing Homes

January 15th, 2016 by Attorney Roger Weinberg

Medication errors are common in health care settings. Whether the error is harmless or harmful depends on the medication, the dosage and the health of the patient. For nursing homes, the problem can be especially serious. Many residents take several medications, overall health may be poor and those who lack mental capacity can’t advocate for themselves or be proactive to prevent medication errors.

Medication errors happen across the spectrum of the health care system. Potentially preventable adverse drug events kill about 7,000 people annually according to American Nurse Today.

Medication errors resulting in injuries are the top cause of inpatient fatalities.

Error rates vary, depending on the facility, but on average each hospital patient is subject to at least one medication error each day.

A third of all patients in skilled nursing homes suffer a medication error, infection or other type of harm, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General.

The Scale of the Medication Problem

A 2009 article in the Journal of the American Medical Information Association involved observations of 2,025 medication administrations to 127 residents in nursing homes. Researchers found the following:

  • 428 errors were observed, meaning there were mistakes made 21.2% of the time.
  • The most common errors were the use of the wrong administration techniques (especially incorrect crushing of medication and not supervising the intake of medication) and wrong time errors (such as giving the medication at least one hour early or late).

Medication errors are a problem in nursing homes all across the country. From 2012 to 2014, 43% of Florida nursing homes were cited by the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services for problems directly or indirectly related to medication errors, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal. In one Florida case, a patient at Daytona Beach Health and Rehabilitation Center received twice the medication dosage he was supposed to receive, not just once or twice but for a whole year.

NBC Chicago carried reports of medication errors in Illinois nursing homes, some of which led to hospitalizations for dangerously low blood sugar, visual hallucinations and labored breathing,. Illinois health inspectors found 384 nursing home medication errors from 2011 to 2014. Two residents died after medication errors, and the untreated infection of another led to an amputation.

Causes of Medication Errors

Nursing home patients — whether in Florida or Illinois or here in Maryland — generally take numerous prescription medications each day, increasing the likelihood that a healthcare worker will at some point make a mistake in administering, or failing to administer, an important drug — and with disastrous consequences.

Additionally, nursing homes are generally behind other health care providers when it comes to computerized medical records that can help catch errors. Even these computerized systems are not fool proof — they’re only as good as the information put into them and the people who use them. When several people are involved in the prescription, filling and dispensing of medication, it multiplies the chances of mistakes, especially in nursing homes where staff may be subject to high turnover, insufficient or poor training and working long hours.

Legal Help in Maryland

If your loved one has been harmed by a medication error caused by nursing home staff in a Maryland facility, contact our office. We can talk about what happened, what we can do to prevent it from happening again, how the law may apply and your options for obtaining compensation for the harm done. At the Law Offices of Roger S. Weinberg you’ll find compassionate support and experienced advocates to help your family through the tough times. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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