Medication Errors

Nursing homes, also referred to as long-term care or skilled nursing facilities, exist to provide both short-term rehabilitation and long-term residency for those who need an advanced level of care. Each facility must have a medical director. This individual is a licensed physician who may serve multiple facilities at the same time. This individual is responsible for oversight, but the actual nursing staff are in charge of the day-to-day care. In the last ten years or so, we have seen a major push to use physician extenders, such as nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants in providing this level of medical care to nursing home residents. This is especially true in rural downstate Illinois. Locations like Carbondale and Marion or Mount Vernon are all good examples of places where we have noticed the absolute absence of a licensed medical doctor checking on patients. While we would never wish to diminish the value of skilled nurses and PA-level care, it is worth noting that injuries at least appear to be more prevalent in facilities where patients almost never see a doctor. Our office has handled a lot of cases where the residents never met with a physician at the facility. In fact, the only physicians they ever saw where when they were hurt and transferred to a hospital.

One of the unfortunate consequences of underfunded and understaffed facilities or not having a qualified physician check in from time to time is that some patients will suffer from medication errors. In fact, a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that between 16 and 27 percent of nursing home residents have suffered from medication errors. More telling, however, is the fact that the study also documented that as many as 75 percent of all residents have been prescribed at least one inappropriate medication during their stay.  Fortunately, most medication errors and inappropriately prescribed drugs do not kill or seriously injure residents. But sometimes they do. In some cases, the wrong medication could create an instant deterioration in condition or even lead to death.

Five Types of Medication-Related Injuries

Of all the medication injury cases we’ve handled, these are some of the most common ways we see medication errors in southern Illinois nursing homes.

Contraindications. This occurs when a facility gives a resident a medication that is clearly not to be taken with another medication that they are already on. Sometimes, it is a known medical fact that the two drugs can have negative consequences. Other times, the manufacturer may even list the contraindication on the label.

Overmedication. We tend to see this with psychotropic drugs, which are designed to sedate or calm a patient. However, when too much or too high a dose is used, it can be fatal for someone whose health is already compromised.

Drug Allergies. Perhaps the most glaring mistakes happen when a resident has a drug allergy listed right on the face of their chart, yet a nurse or other staff member gives that drug to them by mistake. This can be almost instantly fatal in some cases.

Failure to Medicate. The attorney handled a case in 2018, which involved a nursing home where 2 staff members were ultimately fired and arrested by police because they were misappropriating pain killers and selling them outside the facility. They would swap out Tylenol and other over the counter pills for the narcotic pain killers and opioids that the residents needed.  Some of these residents were healing from surgeries or, even worse, on hospice care. And these pain killers and anti-anxiety benzodiazepines were critical to managing their pain and fear toward the final days of their lives. Simply stealing or not giving the medications to the residents they were prescribed to is an unthinkable and ghoulish crime. Yet, it does happen.

It is not uncommon for improper medications to be administered, leading to severe side effects or negative reactions. Whether due to poor training, low staffing, or a lack of attention to detail, nursing home patients often are not given the medication they need, or medications are administered improperly. These types of mistakes can be deadly to those who are dependent on medications for their survival. If a loved one has died or been seriously injured due to a medication mistake in a southern Illinois nursing home, call Crossroad Legal today, and get a free consultation with an attorney to determine if compensation may be available.

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