Even before the pandemic, neglect and abuse was a growing issue among nursing home residents. One of the main reasons why nursing home abuse occurs is issues with inadequate or short-staffed facilities.
With short staffing an issue for a majority of nursing homes, many staff and medical professionals are cutting corners in an effort to meet the needs of their residents – with deadly results. Instead of hiring additional employees to handle the needs of their residents, understaffed nursing homes are allowing doctors to prescribe residents dangerous and potentially fatal antipsychotic drugs, according to a recent New York Times investigation.
The Mississippi medical malpractice attorneys at Merkel & Cocke, PA, discuss antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes in today’s blog.
Should nursing home residents be prescribed antipsychotics?
While antipsychotic drugs are very dangerous for seniors, they are even more detrimental for elderly people who suffer from conditions such as dementia. Antipsychotic drugs can nearly double the chances of death for those with dementia by increasing the risk of heart problems, infections, falls, and similar ailments.
In fact, the risks are so high that, according to the New York Times, nursing homes have a mandated obligation to the government to report how many of their residents are prescribed antipsychotic drugs. However, there is an exception to this mandated requirement. The government is prohibited from publicly divulging the use of antipsychotic drugs given to residents who suffer from three conditions: schizophrenia, Tourette’s syndrome, and Huntington’s disease.
Why are so many residents being treated for schizophrenia?
The NYT notes that if a nursing home resident is diagnosed with schizophrenia, that diagnosis should be investigated for several reasons. It is no coincidence that ever since the mandated requirement was introduced in 2012 that the number of schizophrenia diagnoses has increased to 70 percent, according to an analysis of Medicare data.
The statistics of the disorder do not correlate with the number of patients who have been diagnosed with the disorder. For example, schizophrenia is a disorder with strong genetic roots that affects roughly one in 150 people. Yet, one in nine nursing home residents has received a schizophrenia diagnosis.
In addition to the number of people who are commonly diagnosed with schizophrenia, the typical age where a person is diagnosed with schizophrenia is almost always before the age of forty. A report issued by a federal oversight agency in May discovered that one-third of nursing home residents who were diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2018 had no Medicare record of being treated for the disorder.
Are nursing home residents without a history of schizophrenia being treated?
Even more suspicious, the rise of schizophrenia diagnoses is not correlating with the lack of schizophrenic behavior from the nursing home residents. Individuals who suffer from schizophrenia experience hallucinations, delusions, and dampened emotions.
Although the number of schizophrenia diagnoses has increased in nursing homes, there has been no evidence of the rise of hallucinations or delusions from the nursing home residents. The number of residents who reported experiencing delusions dropped from six percent to four percent.
Why the reliance on antipsychotic drugs to treat residents?
As stated earlier, a majority of nursing homes are understaffed and overworked. In addition to being understaffed, many staff members do not possess the necessary training to care for nursing home residents who suffer from conditions such as dementia.
Reports have shown that the worse a nursing home’s staffing situation is, the more likely that nursing home is relying on antipsychotic drugs to subdue their patients. Prescribing residents with antipsychotic drugs has a couple of benefits for understaffed nursing homes. In addition to keeping the patients subdued for extended periods of time, nursing home staff can avoid hiring additional employees.
What is the physicians’ role in schizophrenia diagnosis in nursing home residents?
The nursing home staff members are not the only health professionals that should be held liable for false schizophrenia diagnoses. Nursing home physicians are working hand-in-hand with other staff members in prescribing antipsychotic drugs to nursing home residents who do not and probably have never suffered from schizophrenia.
It is the nursing home physicians who are recommending and signing off on the false diagnoses. Dr. David Gifford, the chief medical officer at the American Health Care Association, states that any physician who is improperly diagnosing individuals with serious mental health issues needs to be reported and investigated.
How antipsychotic drugs harm nursing home residents
Sadly, one nursing home resident learned the hard way how detrimental the prescription of antipsychotic drugs can be. That resident was David Blakeney, a 63-year old nursing home resident of Dundee Manor in South Carolina. After being described as restless and agitated, the nursing home’s physician prescribed Mr. Blakeney with a prescription of Haldol, an antipsychotic drug commonly used for patients who suffer from schizophrenia.
Despite the fact that Mr. Blakeney had no prior medical history of suffering from schizophrenia, he was administered the drug and suffered from an extensive list of ailments, all of which were communicated to the physician. Mr. Blakeney suffered from symptoms such as severe weight loss, pneumonia, severe bedsores, and the resulting amputation of his foot. Unfortunately, eight months after first being prescribed the antipsychotic drug Haldol, Mr. Blakeney died.
Even more deceitful, the prescription that the nursing home physician had handwritten for Mr. Blakeney was removed from Dundee Manor’s public record. It was discovered that within two weeks of arriving at Dundee Manor, the physician – Dr. Stephen L. Smith – instructed the nursing home to add the schizophrenia diagnosis to his medical record so Mr. Blakeney could continue to receive Haldol. Unfortunately, this is just one incident that the public is aware of in a number of unknown diagnoses.
At Merkel & Cocke, we understand the hardship that a medical malpractice injury can place on a family. That is why we handle these cases on a contingency basis. Your top priority should be healing and getting on with your life – not trying to pay attorneys’ fees. We handle up-front costs, so you can focus on what is most important. Contact our compassionate legal team today. We maintain offices in Jackson, Clarksdale, Greenville, and Oxford. We also serve injured clients throughout the Gulf Coast. Call us at 662-627-9641, or complete a contact form to schedule a free consultation.
After graduating from the University of Virginia Law School in 1975, Mr. Cocke and Mr. Merkel established Merkel & Cocke, P.A. in 1982. Since that time the emphasis of Mr. Cocke’s practice has progressed toward medical malpractice. At the present time his practice is exclusively devoted to handling medical negligence cases for the plaintiff, either as a result of direct contact by the client or on referral from other attorneys who are not familiar with the handling of medical negligence cases. Mr. Cocke was selected Best Lawyer of the year for 2012 and 2014 in The Memphis area in the field of Medical Malpractice and has been selected a Best Lawyer and Super Lawyer every year since 2006. Learn more about John Hartwell Cocke here.