A recent article by AARP sheds light on a widespread problem in nursing homes that is putting elderly patients at risk. According to the article, thousands of nursing homes across the country are using unnecessary antipsychotic drugs as chemical restraints to control residents.
The article quotes Toby Edelman, an attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy in Washington, D.C., who points to inadequate training, understaffing, and aggressive marketing tactics by big pharmaceutical companies as the driving force behind this long-standing practice. These large companies target nursing homes as the main distributor of their drugs because these facilities are often highly medicalized but typically have very few doctors on site. Less than a year ago, Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries were forced to shell out over $2.2 billion for criminal and civil charges after marketing non-FDA approved drugs to nursing homes, the article reports.
"When nursing facilities divert funds from the care of residents to corporate overhead and profits, the human toll is enormous," Edelman said.
And indeed, the bottom line is often the most important factor when considering the quality of care received by patients in nursing homes. Nursing homes can cut costs by keeping less full-time staff members, or employing CNAs over full-time physicians. The CNAs working in nursing homes are often underpaid and overworked, a problem that is compounded by residents who require a high level of care, the article reports.
Although by law, nursing homes require informed consent by a patient, or family member if consent by the resident is not possible, before receiving drugs like antipsychotics, many nursing homes administer these medications without authorization, pointing to "bad behavior" as justification for doling out antipsychotics to patients. According to the article, these drugs are not meant for elderly patients or those with Alzheimer's or dementia, but rather for patients with extreme schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
"They can dull a patient's memory, sap their personalities and crush their spirits," states a report from the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.
Not only can these drugs make patients agitated, anxious, confused and disoriented, they can also double the risk of death in the elderly, the article reports. Despite knowing the risks associated with antipsychotics, pharmaceutical companies continue to market their products to nursing homes, claiming these drugs work as an effective way to control difficult patients.
The article details a specific case of overmedication in a nursing home resident, reporting that Patricia Thomas, a 79-year-old nursing home resident, went into a nursing home with a broken pelvis, and died within weeks of being discharged after an 18-day stay.
According to the article, Thomas's daughter, Kathi Levine, 57, said she "wasn't my mother anymore. She was withdrawn, slumped in a wheelchair with her head down, chewing on her hand, her speech garbled."
The article reports that her short stint in the nursing home exposed her to so many heavy-duty medications, including illegally administered antipsychotics, that she was no longer able to function. For each drug she was given, she was given another drug to counter the side-effects of the first.
"My mother went into Ventura for physical therapy. Instead, she was drugged up to make her submissive. I believe that my mother died because profit and greed were more important than people," Levine said.
Levine took her case to a Ventura County Superior Court judge, and attorneys from Johnson Moore joined by lawyers from AARP Foundation settled a class-action lawsuit against the nursing home for illegally administering dangerous drugs, the article reports.
Attorney Kelly Bagby, senior counsel fro AARP Foundation litigation, said, "It is the first case of its kind in the country, and hopefully we can replicate this nationwide."
For more information, see the full article by AARP