Nursing Home Medication Errors

Medication errors are a common occurrence in nursing homes and other skilled nursing facilities.

One in three nursing patients suffers from medication errors

A 2014 study published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that one in three nursing patients suffers from medication errors, and that at least 59 percent of these errors were preventable. More than half of all errors required the resident to be admitted to the hospital, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in medical costs.

Other studies have produced similar results. A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Pharmacology called medication errors in nursing homes a “common occurrence,” while a third study reported that one out of every five doses of medication provided by nursing home staff involves a mistake.

Why Are There So Many Medication Errors?

As you would expect, nursing home caregivers are trained to avoid medication errors. Administering medications is a central aspect of their job, and it is one with potentially fatal consequences if they get it wrong. As a result, prior to administering medications, nursing home staff members should always:

  • Make sure they have the right patient.
  • Make sure they have the right medication.
  • Make sure they are administering the proper dosage.
  • Make sure they have the right form of medication (e.g., pill versus liquid).
  • Make sure they are administering the medication at the correct time to avoid interactions and side effects.

So, why do so many nursing home residents suffer from medication errors? For one, caregivers make mistakes. Whether due to lack of training or a failure to follow proper protocol, nurses and other staff members regularly overlook important steps and rush through processes, putting residents at risk.

Doctor and Pharmacist Medication Errors

Sometimes, medication errors occur before the medications make their way into a nursing home. In these cases, injured patients and their families may have grounds to file a medical malpractice claim against the prescribing physician or the pharmacist who supplied the dangerous drug. Some of these types of medication errors include:

  • Prescription errors. A physician may either prescribe the wrong medication or inappropriate dosage.
  • Not asking about allergies. If a physician or pharmacist doesn’t ask about a patient’s allergies, this can lead to the prescription of a potentially harmful drug.
  • Drug interaction errors. Physicians also need to ask about patients’ current medications and avoid prescribing new medications that could cause dangerous drug interactions.
  • Mislabeling medications. Mislabeled medicine bottles can lead to dangerous consequences.

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Know Your Rights!

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the federal rights of a nursing home resident?

Residents of facilities that participate in the Medicare program enjoy the following federal rights:

  • Freedom from verbal, sexual, physical, and mental abuse.
  • Freedom from physical or chemical restraints, except restraints imposed for medical reasons or to insure the safety of the patient or others. Restraints imposed for reasons of discipline or convenience are illegal and are considered abuse.
  • The right to be treated with dignity and respect.
  • The right to manage your own finances or to appoint someone else to do so.
  • The right to privacy as long as it doesn’t interfere with the health, safety, or rights of others.
  • The right to use one’s personal belongings as long as it doesn’t interfere with the health, safety, or rights of others.
  • The right to information about your medical condition and any treatments.
  • The right to refuse treatment (as long as you have the mental capacity to understand the nature and consequences of such a refusal).
  • The right to use your own doctor.
  • The right to set your own daily schedule.
  • The right to as much independence as your medical condition allows you.
  • The right to a safe and comfortable environment.

Most of these rights also apply under state law, even for nursing homes that do not participate in the Medicare program.

Can I sue the nursing home even if my loved one has no written contract with them?

Yes, you can, because human rights don’t need contractual support. If you were hit by a car, for example, you wouldn’t have to prove that you had a contract with the driver not to hit you in order to win a lawsuit against him or her – you could sue under general tort law principles, just as you can in cases of abuse and neglect in a nursing facility.

The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act defines the rights under state law that your loved one enjoys with or without a contractual arrangement with the nursing home. Federal regulations also apply if the institution participates in the Medicare program. Proving that the facility violated an applicable regulation will go a long way toward establishing their liability for compensatory damages. In cases of outrageous conduct, you might even be able to collect punitive damages against the nursing home. Of course, if there is a contract, a contract claim could be added to other claims arising from the abuse or neglect.

Where do I file a complaint against nursing home abuse or neglect?

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is the state agency responsible for enforcing the law in favor of the more than 100,000 nursing home residents residing in over 1,200 facilities in Illinois. The IDPH licenses these facilities, conducts inspections at least annually, and cooperates with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for eligibility to participate in federal payment reimbursement programs.

The IDPH maintains a Nursing Home Hotline (800-252-4343) for complaints. Upon receiving a complaint of abuse or neglect, the IDPH’s Bureau of Long Term Care may launch an investigation. Although it does not participate in lawsuits, it can sanction or even close down homes that violate the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act or federal regulations. The results of its investigation can be used as evidence in a civil lawsuit against a home or an employee.