Using The Law To Make Your Life Better

Is the nursing home chemically restraining your parent?

David Sexton

If your parent lives in one of Tennessee’s many nursing homes, you likely worry that (s)he may not receive the care (s)he needs and deserves. Unfortunately, there may be justification for your concerns, especially if your parent suffers from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or any other condition that decreases his or her ability to understand the things that go on around him or her.

Shockingly, the results of a study recently conducted by Human Rights Watch reveal that many nursing homes give their patients unprescribed antipsychotic drugs. Not only did no physician prescribe these drugs for these patients, but the patients suffered from no disease for which doctors prescribe these types of drugs. So why do the nursing homes give them to patients who do not need them? To make them more manageable and controllable.

Study findings

Human Rights Watch investigated 15,000 nursing homes throughout the country in which approximately 1.1 million elderly patients lived. Staff routinely administered such unprescribed antipsychotic drugs as Haloperidol, Seroquel and Risperidone to over 179,000 of them, despite the fact that none of these patients suffered from diseases normally treated with antipsychotics, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

According to nursing home “caregivers,” the reason they routinely gave these uncalled for drugs to patients who did not medically require them was that most of these patients suffered from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other conditions that often resulted in uncooperative and combative behaviors. The drugs calmed them, making them easier to care for. In the worst cases, up to 30 percent of a nursing home’s patients received such drugs on a daily basis, usually without their knowledge or consent or that of their families. Elder rights advocates have assigned a name to this widespread practice: chemical restraints.

Insufficient oversight

As you likely know, the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 protects your parent from nursing home abuse and neglect. However, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the agency tasked with enforcing NHRA rules and regulations, often falls far short of doing so, particularly in the realm of antipsychotic drug monitoring and enforcement. For instance, between 2014 and 2017, the CMMS issued only 7,039 improper drug administration citations to nursing homes nationwide. Worse yet, it refused to collect the supposedly mandatory fines for such abuse in over 97 percent of the cases, citing as its reason that the affected patients suffered “no actual harm.”

The Federal Drug Administration bans the use of antipsychotic drugs in patients for whose diseases and conditions these drugs are contraindicated. Furthermore, the FDA requires close monitoring of all patients legitimately receiving these drugs. Nevertheless, the CMMS announced in 2016 that it was placing a moratorium on these rules and regulations.

Consequently, you unfairly bear the responsibility of monitoring the types and amounts of medications your parent’s nursing home administers to him or her. Never hesitate to ask your parent’s doctor(s) and the nursing home staff numerous questions regarding your parent’s health care. Do not allow evasive or inadequate answers to put you off. If you suspect that the nursing home is using chemical restraints on your parent, immediately notify it, in writing, to cease and desist. In addition, you may want to consider filing a lawsuit against it.

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