The unsavory connection and conflict that exists between pharmacists, drug companies, and nursing home resident prescriptions should give pause to all those who care about the well-being of area seniors. Each Chicago nursing home neglect attorney at our firm has spoken out against the often dangerous medication practices of many long-term care facilities. The New York Times published a story late last week on the prevalence of medication errors in the nursing home context. The problem remains hidden because unlike single events which are clear examples of nursing home neglect, persistent medication problems are harder to identify. Instead they constitute subtle, chronic problems that most often go unnoticed.
The Times story explains how journalists found dozens of cases of problematic prescriptions at these facilities. For example, one woman with a history of seizures was given the antipsychotic Seroquel—even though research shows that antipsychotics increase risk of seizures. Not only that, but not long afterward the woman was put on a second antipsychotic—Risperdal. Combining these drugs has been shown to risk causing irregular heartbeats, a potential life-threatening problem. When the pharmacist charged with monitoring these prescriptions was confronted about these problems, he admitted that he did not note any of these concerns in the patient’s chart.
Unfortunately, the plight of this nursing home resident is not as uncommon as it should be. That is because investigations have repeatedly found that pharmacists routinely fail to catch these problems. The most recent investigation, conducted by The Bay Citizen, found that more than half of all facilities did not catch cases where residents were given powerful antipsychotic drugs inappropriately. Our Illinois nursing home neglect lawyers remain disappointed (but not surprised) by these findings.
The risks of antipsychotics are well documented. They are drugs intended to be used to treat conditions like schizophrenia. However, instead they are often given to elderly nursing home residents as a way to make them easier to control. Unfortunately, that means that many patients who should have be receiving the drugs—like those with dementia—are still given them unsafely. In addition, other patients are prescribed the medication at unsafe doses or in combination of other drugs that come with a range of unacceptable risks.
A large part of the problem may be conflicts between drug companies and pharmacists that are employed by nursing homes. When pharmacists have financial incentives to approve prescriptions of certain drugs, then the risk of problems is significant. For example, the average pay rate for pharmacists is about $56 per hour. However, certain pharmacists often charge the nursing home rates as low as $11 per hour. How do they justify the cost? Often by reaping financial benefits from drug companies via recommendations regarding what medications residents’ should be taking.
Many advocates working to fight elder neglect and abuse have been working hard to enact legal changes which would prevent these conflicts. There is never an excuse for financial decisions to skew the safety and well-being of residents. That is particularly true when the financial motives are not about the overall available resources but about fattening the wallet of private companies and consultants.
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