It is the worst fear of anyone whose family has a history of Alzheimer’s disease. One day, their family members will no longer be able to care of them and likely will not have sufficient wealth to hire a 24-hour in-home caretaker. These individuals will share a fate with hundreds of thousands of other seniors; namely, life in a nursing home. While there are of course “good” and “poor” facilities, what rings true throughout the nursing home industry is the use of antipsychotic medications for Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients. What nursing homes often fail to tell family members, however, is that these drugs are in many cases unwarranted and are used by nursing home staff to sedate otherwise healthy patients.
The blame game of informed consent
Informed consent laws were created to act as a form of checks and balances for nursing homes. Essentially, under Illinois law a licensed health facility, such as a nursing home, must receive written or verbal agreement from a patient (or their authorized representative) before undertaking any procedures or in many cases administering new medication as a treatment option. In order to obtain the consent, the facility is required under the law to provide a “fair explanation of procedures.” Unfortunately for many individuals with loved ones in nursing homes across the country, this law has been shown to have been patently abused by health facilities. Investigations into facilities’ use of antipsychotic medication, such as Haldol, Risperdal and others, have shown that these drugs have been used as chemical restraints in patients who are not diagnosed with the conditions for which the drugs are approved (i.e. Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder).
Use of antipsychotic drugs on dementia or Alzheimer’s patients has been found to be authorized by nursing home staff to control “problem behavior” such as wandering, anxiety, verbal outbursts, and confusion. In 2010, one study found that 39.4% of patients with cognitive disorders (like dementia or Alzheimer’s) were given antipsychotic drugs and 41% were prescribed these medications in violation of nursing home prescribing guidelines. Anyone who has seen what dementia can do to loved ones understands that all of these behaviors are not “problems” but merely a symptom of a greater disease.
Follow the money
In nursing homes across the country, government prosecutors have charged numerous for-profit facilities for subjecting patients to unnecessary treatment in order to overbill Medicare. One study showed that between 2003 and 2008, the 10 largest for-profit nursing home chains cut their registered nursing staff by 37% and received 59% more notices of deficiency from government overseers than similar non-profit run facilities. These statistics are heartbreaking for anyone who has faced the hard decision of placing their trust in a nursing home facility, only to be betrayed by the greed of the nursing home industry.
As Hubert Humphrey once asserted, “it was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those…who are in the twilight of life, the elderly…” If we are to live up to this moral test as a nation, it is up to those who have been wronged to stand on behalf of their loved ones against the abuses some have faced at the hands of nursing home staff, doctors and others who are responsible for ensuring that patients receive proper care. If you have a loved one in a health facility and have questions about potential abuse, call the Law Offices of Robert T. Edens, P.C in Antioch today. Our attorneys are skilled at representing clients in nursing home abuse cases from consultation to litigation, and work to ensure that our clients receive the care they deserve.