Nursing Homes Use Improper Diagnoses to Neglect and Abuse ResidentsAbuse and Neglect
If you are looking for a nursing home for your loved one, you undoubtedly want a facility with quality care and a safe environment. Unfortunately, nursing homes are under criticism for similar patterns of unscrupulous diagnoses of mental illnesses among long-term residents.
According to the New York Times, there is an alarming increase in schizophrenia diagnoses and antipsychotic medication prescriptions among patients in nursing homes. While nursing homes are licensed to provide medication assistance for patients, they cannot control residents through illegal drugs. Instead, understaffed nursing homes manipulate legal loopholes to sedate elderly patients and neglect their care.
Read on to discover why illegal prescriptions are hazardous for elders with dementia, how nursing homes conceal antipsychotic medication use, and how you can seek justice.
About Mental Illnesses and Anti-Psychotic Medication
Dementia is a general word for a range of conditions that impair a person’s ability to think, remember, and make daily living decisions. It’s estimated that 47.8 percent of long-term care service users in nursing homes have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.
Since dementia affects a person’s cognitive, emotional, and motor skills, some long-term patients live with aides and nurses in nursing homes. The staff help patients with dementia groom, read, play sports, take medication, and eat healthy meals.
Professional caregivers can also handle the behavioral changes caused by dementia. For example, if your loved one has reached an aggressive stage of dementia, they may curse, insult, yell, hit, kick, and throw objects. Trained staff should employ appropriate behavioral interventions to manage spurts of aggression, calm the patient, and prevent injury or damage.
However, findings suggest that nursing homes use anti-psychotic medications to manage symptoms of dementia and neglect patients. Sedated patients cannot display aggression, speak out against neglect, or perform daily tasks alone. Moreover, antipsychotic medications almost double the death rate among patients with dementia, hence the need to protect vulnerable residents from unnecessary medication.
Regulations and Ratings
Mental disorders occur among elderly patients, and as such, the use of psychotropic drugs to manage behaviors is common. However, these medications have severe side effects.
For example, drugs used for anxiety and insomnia may cause over-sedation, increasing the likelihood of fall accidents among drugged patients. Unfortunately, understaffed facilities and abusive staff use the side effects against unsuspecting residents. To prevent incidents of unauthorized medication, the government requires nursing homes to report residents on medications for mental disorders.
But, there’s a loophole—government records don’t reveal the patients receiving antipsychotic medication for schizophrenia, Huntington’s disease, or Tourette’s syndrome. Instead of using nonpharmacologic management to treat residents, nursing homes obtain schizophrenia diagnoses to medicate patients “legally.”
While some elderly patients have schizophrenia, the condition is rarely left undiagnosed before 40 years old. Patients with schizophrenia sometimes experience hallucinations, delusions, cognitive impairment, and motor impairment. Yet, one in nine residents in nursing homes was diagnosed with schizophrenia—without any behavioral symptoms. In addition, a third of nursing home residents with a schizophrenia diagnosis don’t have a history of the condition.
The Nursing Home Business
While data from The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) shows that approximately 15 percent of nursing home residents are on antipsychotics, records shared with The Times show that 21 percent of residents in nursing homes are on antipsychotics. Additionally, the number of residents with schizophrenia has increased to 11 percent compared to less than 7 percent within ten years, without any increase in schizophrenia symptoms.
Notably, nursing homes provide professional assisted living services for profit. Ideally, a nursing home should have trained, experienced and adequate staff to manage residents with dementia and other mental disorders. As a substitute, nursing homes collude with doctors to incorrectly diagnose and medicate residents.
Caring for people with dementia is labor-intensive. Therefore, facilities cut down on staff to increase profits. The nurses help residents eat, bathe, dress, and take medication. They also talk to the residents and manage emotions such as aggression. As such, a proper facility requires a healthy staff to patient ratio to provide specialized treatment. Regrettably, for many clients, sedated patients cost less.
Moreover, the nursing home’s image is also on the line. Medicare uses the level of antipsychotic drug use in a facility to award a star rating. Clients then use the ratings to select nursing homes for their loved ones. However, the rating system does not include schizophrenia medications.
As such, nursing homes can wrongfully categorize a resident’s diagnosis as schizophrenia to retain high ratings. What’s more, facilities with higher ratings receive higher incentives per bed from the federal government.
While the government conducts inspections, current nursing home reports are tainted with collusion between facilities and inspectors. Despite some homes acknowledging medication abuse on residents asking for help or complaining, inspectors dismissed the violations as “potential” but not “actual harm.” In more than 5,600 instances, guilty nursing homes walked free.
Reporting the Abuse
If you suspect that your loved one is in immediate danger due to abuse in a nursing home, report your suspicions to 911. You can also report your suspicions to your local adult protective services department under the Department of Social Services or the long-term care ombudsman in your area.
After reporting your suspicions to the proper authorities, consider contacting a nursing home lawyer. If your loved one has suffered physical and psychological harm due to the negligent actions of a nursing home, you can seek compensation in some cases.
Filing an abuse lawsuit is an opportunity to recover damages for the medical expenses incurred while nursing the elder back to health. The reward can also cover losses for change in the quality of life for the patient. In cases where an elder dies due to neglect and abuse, a wrongful death lawsuit allows the survivors to seek compensation.
In a nursing home neglect or abuse case, a nursing home lawyer may identify and pursue compensation from several guilty parties:
- The nursing home company for failing to provide trained staff and enforcing policies that prevent residents’ illegal diagnosis and medication.
- The staff members who illegally sedated a patient or failed to provide the required standard of care for the elder.
- Medical providers such as doctors who prescribe improper schizophrenia or mental disorders diagnoses to obtain antipsychotic drugs and sedate nursing home residents.
If you worry that lazy or malicious staff improperly diagnosed your loved one with schizophrenia or another mental illness to justify giving them sedating drugs, call a nursing home lawyer immediately to protect your loved one.
Nathan Hughey, an attorney and fourth-generation South Carolinian, founded Hughey Law Firm in 2007. Before that, he spent five years defending nursing homes and insurance companies. Leveraging his experience, he now advocates for those injured or wronged by such entities, securing over $220 million in verdicts and settlements.