If someone close to you is in a nursing home, there is a one-in-five chance that he or she is improperly medicated with a dangerous antipsychotic drug. As of November 2017, more than 20% of the 1.4 million residents in U.S. long-term care facilities (LTCFs) receive antipsychotic drugs. However, fewer than 2% of the population have a diagnosis that is requires those drugs. That is nearly 300,000 victims of pharmaceutical abuse.
Drugs such as Abilify, Seroquel, Thorazine, Compazine, Latuda and Zyprexa are improperly prescribed for dementia patients solely to tranquilize them and make them less trouble for staff. The drugs are administered for cost-reduction, not to address a medical need. Since the cost of the drugs falls on Medicare or Medicaid, it makes economic sense to keep residents doped up and dumbed down.
The effectiveness of this scheme is shown by the case of Chanille, who was in a “memory-care” facility. At the time, there was no prescription coverage and her family was paying over $500 per month for medication. When her family visited, she was almost catatonic. However, the family could not continue to pay for the medication and it was discontinued. Almost immediately, Chanille perked up and started enquiring about her grandchildren. Besides destroying the emotional connection with her family, the facility was endangering Chanille’s life.
According to the Long Term Care Community Coalition:
In addition to destroying social and emotional well-being, these drugs greatly increase risks of stroke, heart attack, diabetes, Parkinsonism, and falls. They are not clinically indicated for dementia-related psychosis. They are associated with a significant increase in death when given to elderly people with dementia. Reducing the inappropriate and dangerous drugging of nursing home residents is a focal point of LTCCC’s advocacy.
Review the prescriptions of an LTC resident you care about for antipsychotic drugs – warning, there are a lot of them. They are listed here: Antipsychotics By Class
Do not let the LTCF fob you off with mutterings about HIPAA rules. Unless there is a guardian or other person with written authorization, HIPAA allows a relative or close friend to demand information about an incompetent resident’s medical condition and prescriptions. If the resident is receiving antipsychotic drugs, enquire about the diagnosis and whether it was made by a doctor with proper credentials or the LTCF’s pet GP. Request a second opinion from a psychiatrist. A nursing-home resident has a right to a doctor of choice.
The facility may stonewall you. If it does, contact the state’s Long-term Care Ombudsman or the agency that licenses LTCFs to file a complaint.
If family members become too much of a bother, the facility may file a petition for guardianship with the local probate court. This is common and dangerous for seniors in many regions of the country where the probate judges routinely appoint the guardian nominated by an LTCF that files such a petition. The guardian nominee will be an attorney or other person the facility knows will keep the family at bay and not be too inquisitive about the “care” the resident receives. If there is friction between the family and the facility, it is a good idea to check with the probate register every two weeks to ask if a guardianship petition has been filed for the resident. Talk to a probate attorney to find out about local probate practices.
The secret to good care in an LTCF is constant vigilance. Visit often and at random times. If the resident is not receiving good care, inform the staff that the attention the resident is receiving is insufficient and follow up the conversation with an email to the director of nursing. Talk to other residents and their families. Exchange telephone numbers and agree to let them know if you see a problem. It is easy for the facility to ignore one resident’s bothersome family, but there is strength in numbers. Support the families of other residents. They are going through the same agony as you are and will welcome your concern.
John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
©2017 John B. Payne, Attorney