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Medication Errors and Nursing Home Abuse

Posted in Nursing Homes on February 17, 2023

With the aging of the baby boomer generation, the United States has a large and growing population of the elderly, including those living out their final years in nursing home facilities. Because nursing home residents almost always have multiple medical conditions and often a degree of cognitive impairment, dementia, or aphasia, they are extremely vulnerable to nursing home abuse and neglect, including dangerous medication errors. With seniors in a nursing home taking an average of 8 daily medications, this vulnerable population is at greater risk of potential harm. One study revealed that 2/3rds of the 256 nursing home residents in the study had suffered one or more medication errors.

Understanding Nursing Home Medication Errors

While no medication error seems acceptable when it happens to a loved one, most states have an “acceptable” medication error rate of no more than 5% in nursing homes. The medical profession defines medication errors as any preventable error leading to or causing patient harm or inappropriate medication use while the medication is in the control of the healthcare provider, a patient, or a consumer.

Medication errors in nursing homes are the administration of medications that don’t adhere to the doctor’s orders or the pharmacological instructions of the manufacturer.

Most nursing homes use a method of medication administration to patients called a “med pass” during which a nurse or a caregiver supervised by a nurse, delivers prescribed medications to patients on a cart that passes down the hallways from room to room on a set schedule. This process involves pre-organizing the medications, administering them, and documenting the process. Then, proper monitoring should take place to ensure the senior takes the medication properly. A medication error may occur at any stage of this med pass procedure. Studies show that errors most commonly occur during the ordering and monitoring stages.

Examples of Nursing Home Medication Mistakes

Medication errors in nursing homes often go unreported, meaning it’s likely they occur more often than we know. Some common medication mistakes in nursing homes include:

  • Improperly preparing patient medications
  • Failure to monitor the patient while they take the medication
  • Administering an improper dosage
  • Administering medication without reviewing the contraindications or side effects
  • Not administering medications on time
  • Cutting pills that are not safe to split
  • Allowing patients to swallow medications meant to melt under the tongue
  • Failure to ensure an IV is working properly
  • Failing to mix or shake a medication

Dangers of Medication Errors

Not only can medication errors cause direct harm to the patient, but these mistakes may also cause dizziness and other symptoms that result in a nursing home resident falling and experiencing a serious injury such as a fracture.

Some antipsychotic medications used to treat dementia patients may cause strokes or heart attacks when administered to the incorrect patient or in incorrect dosages to the proper patient.

When a nursing home facility exceeds the acceptable number of medication errors it’s a form of elder abuse. A medically vulnerable senior may experience harmful symptoms, worsened medical conditions, dangerous side effects, or even death.

Loved ones should report any known medication errors to a nursing home resident as soon as possible. You may have a case for nursing home abuse.