Local nursing home resident advocates remain saddened, shocked, and disgusted by the latest news out of a nursing home in South Holland, Illinois. As reported by several news outlets last week (and discussed on this blog), the death of a 98-year old resident, Dorothy Byrd, at Holland Home was ruled a homicide with the cause of death attributed to an overdose of two separate painkillers–morphine and hydrocodone.
Making matters even more disturbing is that Dorothy Byrd is not the only resident whose life may have been lost by the suspected actions of Holland Home employees. In fact, at least five other residents were hospitalized last month due to unknown causes, with two of those residents passing away.
Chronic Painkiller Overdoses in Nursing Homes
It is natural to assume that these types of nursing home overdose incidents–involving the intentional killing of vulnerable residents–are anomalies. After all, most community member assume that seniors are provided quality care from nursing home employees. At the worst, some might understand that negligence occasionally strikes, with residents wallowing without the care they need. But very few can fathom that actual homicide occurs, with seniors given lethal doses of medication specifically intended to kill them. But, as our legal team understands intimately, intentional homicide strikes again and again in nursing homes across the country–including in Illinois.
There have actually been systematic documentation by health and human service scholars of the chronic nature of this very crisis–occasionally dubbed the “serial murder by healthcare professionals.” Once such study identified ninety different healthcare professionals guilty of suspected serial murder, with a majority of those criminally convicted for their conduct. The motive behind these murders vary, from sheer sadistic conduct to misguided individuals who believe they are somehow performing some social good by their actions.
Inherently intertwined with this issue is the clear problem of understaffing at these facilities. In any healthcare setting, but particularly in nursing homes, if caregivers are overwhelmed with demands, the risk of sloppy or reckless care increases. Overworked caregivers are naturally prone to look for shortcuts to ease their workload. That might include the overuse of medications. If a few medications can be given to a resident to lull them into a stupor that is easy to handle, then why not continue to use them again and again?
That mind-set–which completely ignores the humanity of the senior resident–leads to chemical straitjackets in the best of cases. In the worst, reckless misuse results in death, as this case illustrates.
Accountability for Nursing Home Overdose Deaths
Unfortunately, the horrific news from South Holland is not as surprising as it should be for our nursing home abuse lawyers. These tragedies strike far more than most would ever assume. In fact, our attorneys represented the family of one of the residents who was killed in the so-called “Angel of Death” case against the Woodstock Residence nursing home.
We continue to advocate every day on behalf of senior residents and their families harmed by the misconduct of nursing home companies and employees. There is simply no excuse for reckless or intentional misuse of power and control over seniors. It is critical that those responsible for these actions are held fully accountable under both the criminal and civil law.