Are Texas Nursing Home Residents Being Overmedicated?

Mar 14, 2018

The issue of unnecessarily medicating and overmedicating of nursing home residents has been a hot topic among advocates and attorneys for quite some time.  While often referenced on a broad or nationwide level, a local news station has brought the issue closer to home by answering the question, “are Texas nursing home residents being overmedicated?”

According to the U.S.  Food and Drug Administration (FDA), around 15,000 nursing home residents die every year due to unnecessary use of antipsychotic medications.  Now, let’s take a look at just how serious this problem is for Texan’s.  If you have questions, contact Brown & Brothers to learn more.

Investigation Shows Texas Nursing Home Residents are Being Overmedicated

In February 2018, WFAA8 news published part 4 of an ongoing investigation into nursing home abuse and neglect in Texas.  Part 4 specifically addresses inappropriate or unnecessary use of medications.  The report titled “Drugged and Dying” highlights a gut wrenching trend that is risking the lives of nursing home residents across the state.

According to the investigation, 96 percent of Texas nursing homes admitted that they have given drugs to residents who don’t need them.  With the federal government reportedly cracking down on use of chemical restraints like antipsychotic drugs, advocates and families want to know how and why this is even a problem.

Under the federal guidelines, nursing homes cannot administer antipsychotic medications unless a doctor diagnoses the individual with “at least one of three” mental illnesses.  The three eligible illnesses include schizophrenia, Huntington’s disease, and Tourette’s syndrome.  The most commonly diagnosed mental illness among nursing home residents is schizophrenia.  Since the laws changed, the number of nursing home residents diagnosed with schizophrenia increased by 26 percent.

Experts noted that schizophrenia generally develops early in life, most often in the 20’s, not later in life.  Experts also pointed out that diagnosing someone with schizophrenia or any mental illness for the purpose of sedation may be inappropriate and dangerous. Nursing home residents are already vulnerable, but when they are overmedicated, they run a higher risk for falls and other injuries.

Why are Texas Nursing Homes Overmedicating Residents?

There is no acceptable or appropriate answer to why residents are overmedicated, but there is a likely reason for why it occurs.  That issue is staffing.  Texas is one of few states that does not have minimum staffing requirements for nursing homes.  That often leaves facilities understaffed or under-funded.  Around 70 percent of nursing home expenses are related to staffing, so facilities sometimes also cut back on staffing in an effort to boost profitability.  Unfortunately, both scenarios put residents at risk.

Another reason why nursing home residents are overmedicated is because nursing homes are not being forced to stop.  Inappropriately diagnosing residents, giving them non-prescribed medications, or overmedicating them to sedate them is not a new concern for Texas lawmakers.  In October 2016, the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman issued a report to all nursing home administrators about the dangers of misdiagnosis, fraudulent diagnosis and overmedication.  Still, little has been done to correct the issue of staffing, or to really crack down on facilities using unethical and unsafe tactics.  To see the full list of facilities, percentage of residents who received antipsychotics, and the number of facilities fined for doing so, view this spreadsheet from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Ethical, Legal, and Health Risks of Inappropriately Medicating Residents

For understaffed nursing homes, medicating residents may seem like an easy way to manage residents and cut costs.  This practice is not only inappropriate and unethical, it is also illegal to medicate someone without their consent.  Texas has “informed consent” laws requiring caregivers to explain medications and possible side effects to patients prior to administering the drug.

The WFAA8 investigation revealed that some nursing homes would go to extreme lengths to hide medications from residents.  One resident reported that drugs had been crushed or hidden in her food or drink.  Another report detailed a nursing home resident who was in good health until the facility began administering Risperdal without a corresponding diagnosis.  In her immobilized and drugged state, the resident fell and broke her hip, and then died two weeks later.

An informant at a Dallas-area nursing home described a phrase used to identify the practice of sedating residents.  The phrase, ‘take this lady to China’, was a signal to give the resident any medication that would sedate them.  The informant recalled one particular patient who ‘went to China’ but ended up in the hospital.  She never returned.

Get More Information about Protecting Nursing Home Residents

Whether you are a nursing home resident, a family member, or an advocate, if you want more information about how to protect nursing home residents and their legal rights, contact Brown & Brothers.  Our skilled nursing home abuse attorneys can help you understand your legal rights, identify risks, abuse, or neglect, and take action.

Nursing home abuse and neglect is not acceptable and should not be allowed to continue.  For more information, fill out our online form.