Not all nursing home neglect is a simple matter of unintended mistakes or oversights that cause harm to residents. At times there are far more organized, repeat efforts that place dozens (or even hundreds) of residents at risk of serious harm and death. In those more far-reaching cases, the consequences may be severe for those who engage in the conduct, including nursing home staff members, nurses, doctors, and administrators. While family members of those harmed can file civil lawsuits seeking accountability, criminal charges can also be filed (by the state) if criminal laws are violated.
Three Year Prison Sentence
That is what happened in a unique case which just ended in a Director of Nursing at a long-term care facility being sentenced to three years in prison for conduct related to medication of facility residents. The defendant in the case pled no contest to state criminal charges alleging elder abuse which led to the death of a resident. Interestingly, she also faced “assault with a deadly weapon” charges–with the weapon being the drug Risperdal.
Essentially, the charges stem from widespread use of chemical restraints. The legal documents in the matter argue that administrators “allowed the staff to forcibly administer psychotropic medications to patients for their own convenience, rather than for their patients’ therapeutic interests.”
According to stories on the situation, the Director of Nursing grossly deviate from accepted practices in prescribing the dangerous medications. She would lead interdisciplinary meetings where she had a pharmacist write prescriptions for “troublesome” residents. Of course, she determined who was or was not considered “troublesome.” The entire purpose of the prescriptions was to control the residents and make them easier to handle. It is a textbook example of blatant misuse of these antipsychotic drugs.
One obvious problem, of course, is that nurses are not allowed to order medication. Yet, notwithstanding the proper protocol, the pharmacist in question actually wrote out the orders and filled the prescription. A doctor eventually did sign off on the orders, but it was often months after the medications were actually given. Even then, the doctor rarely investigated the matter to determine if the drugs were necessary for the well-being of the patient or simply for the comfort of the caregivers.
Prescription protocols exist for a reason. When they are obviously violated–as was suggested in this case–then there must be consequences. Misuse of medications not only greatly reduces the quality of life for residents but it can lead to severe injury or even death.
Misuse of antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes remains a problem in Chicago, Illinois, and throughout the country. More and more attention is being drawn to the issue, but we still have a long way to go. If you suspect problematic use of medications for a loved one, please do not say silent. Stand up, ask questions, and demand that you receive answers about how the drugs are necessary for therapeutic reasons. The elder abuse attorneys at our firm are here to help.
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