Skip to content

Drugging Nursing Home Residents Is Abusive – and Common

 Drugging Nursing Home Residents Is Abusive ¬– and CommonIn May of 2019, Barbara Lovenstein died from health complications due to being routinely drugged with Ativan by the staff at Eskaton Fountain Wood, a nursing home in Sacramento, California. Lovenstein was admitted for short-term rehabilitation and was only supposed to receive Ativan for seizures.

The nursing home dosed her every day at 6AM. She died from fatal pneumonia linked to the overdosing. Lovenstein’s family was awarded $42.5 million in the nursing home abuse lawsuit.

When we place our loved ones in a nursing home, we trust and expect that they will be taken care of, treated with respect, and protected. Unfortunately, this is not always what happens. Sadly, there are many patients like Barbara Lovenstein who suffer or lose their lives due to unnecessary drugging and nursing home abuse.

Nursing home abuse statistics

Nursing home abuse is common, but most underestimate just how common. The National Council on Aging (NCOA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) report the following statistics:

  • Thousands of families are affected by nursing home abuse every year.
  • Over 15,000 complaints of abuse and neglect were filed in 2020.
  • 3% of residents experienced at least one instance of physical abuse while in a nursing home.
  • According to a 2020 WHO study, emotional abuse was the most common form of abuse reported. Nearly 1 out of 3 staff members admitted to emotionally abusing residents.
  • 60% of all elder financial abuse cases involved family members.
  • According to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), 1 in 20 older adults indicated they suffered financial abuse.
  • 12% of nursing home workers reported neglecting residents' needs. 12% of residents or their families reported nursing home neglect in the same study.
  • A 2014 review of previous studies showed that neglect had the highest rates of any other elder abuse in the United States.

In 2018, CNN reported on a bombshell 157-page Human Rights report that estimated more than 179,000 nursing home residents are given antipsychotic medications each week, even though they don’t have approved diagnoses to warrant the use of the drugs. Most of the residents have dementia and instead the medications are used to chemically restrain or suppress behaviors and make it easier for overwhelmed nursing home staff.

These statistics are daunting. Is anything being done to combat this elder abuse problem?

What is The Federal Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987?

Prior to 1987, treatment of nursing home patients was not federally monitored and many senior citizens suffered abuse, neglect, and poor treatment. Although there have been reforms since, this is obviously still a huge problem.

In 1987, the federal government passed The Federal Nursing Home Reform Act or Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA). This act outlined guidelines for the care of nursing home residents. Some of the new provisions included an emphasis on quality of life and care; expectations that residents would be able to walk, bathe, and perform daily activities on their own; initiation of resident assessments of services; training/testing for staff; rights to remain in the nursing home despite lack of payment, dangerous behaviors, or changes in medical conditions; the right to be free of physical and chemical restraints; and many other reforms.

One of the most important provisions of this ACT was the right to be free of physical and chemical restraints.

What are physical restraints?

Physical restraints that are used to limit mobility include arm and leg restraints, hand mitts, vests, ties, and trays/tables/bars that cannot be removed from chairs and beds. Sometimes physical restraints are necessary to keep older people safe. Since the OBRA, unnecessary physical restraint use has declined.

What are chemical restraints?

Unfortunately, chemical restraint use has become a new form of nursing home abuse. It is estimated that 15,000 nursing home residents die annually due to unnecessary use of antipsychotic drugs. Psychotropic drugs are often an essential form of treatment in nursing homes, but can become chemical restraints when they are used to control a resident’s behavior.

Chemical restraint abuse is just as severe as physical restraint abuse. Per the report from the Illinois Nursing Home Safety Task Force (The Task Force), possible effects of misuse and/or overuse of psychotropic drugs include:

●      Overdose

●      Malnutrition

●      Dehydration

●      Inability to feel pain

●      Brain injury

●      Bed sores

●      Skin conditions

●      Chemical dependence

●      Choking

●      Functional decline

●      Loss of Memory

●      Agitation

●      Depression

●      Orthostatic hypotension

●      Loss of mobility and strength

●      Increased risk of accidents and falls

●      Low blood pressure

●      Muscle disorders

 

The Task Force asked for more regulation regarding the dispensing of psychotropic drugs to patients in nursing homes. Family members of nursing home residents filed a multitude of grievances, asserting that “psychotropic drugs were repeatedly used for unapproved indications.” The Task Force found that most prescriptions are written by just a few doctors, who may not even meet with, see, or examine the patients.

Nursing home staff are advised to administer the drugs as needed without consulting a doctor. Further, Illinois does not require nursing home residents consent for each psychotropic drug administered. According to a December 19, 2009 Chicago Tribune report, in the nine years from 2001 to 2010, psychotropic medications were administered to hundreds of nursing home patients without seeking their consent. The Illinois task force’s efforts led to historic legislation in 2010. Senate Bill 326 (Public Act 096-1372) is helping to transform the nursing home system of admission and screening in Illinois.

If you suspect nursing home abuse is affecting your loved one, contact an experienced nursing home attorney. At Gainsberg Law P.C., our Chicago nursing home lawyers have been protecting seniors for more than 20 years. We fight to show a nursing home facility was negligent or allowed staff to commit abuse. To discuss any nursing home mistreatment, call our office at 312-600-9585 or complete our contact form today.