Attorneys Prosecuting Nursing Home Medication Error Injuries & Fatalities

Medication Errors in Nursing HomesOne of the major functions that nursing home staff will perform is administering medication to residents. It is intuitive that giving a resident their medication is not as simple as putting the pills in a cup and placing it in front of the resident. Seniors will likely have a number of medications that they are taking that are administered in different ways. While many medication errors may not be considered life-threatening, in some instances, nursing homes will either give the medicine incorrectly or will give residents the wrong medication. This can place their lives in danger. Even worse, nursing homes may entirely fail to give the medication to a resident, putting them in jeopardy in physical harm.

Medication errors are legally actionable. They may be evidence of the fact that the nursing home has been negligent. If your family can prove that your loved one suffered injury from a nursing home’s medication error, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Legal counsel can help you make this showing since the nursing home’s lawyers will either try to deny that they made a mistake or may claim that it was not their mistake that ultimately caused the resident’s injury. The network of affiliated lawyers at the Nursing Home Law Center can help.

What is a Medication Error?

According to the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention, "a medication error is any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer. Such events may be related to professional practice, health care products, procedures, and systems, including prescribing, order communication, product labeling, packaging, and nomenclature, compounding, dispensing, distribution, administration, education, monitoring, and use.”

Medication Errors and Nursing Homes

As mentioned above, not all types of medication errors are the same. Federal regulations contemplate that nursing homes may make minor errors in administering medications to their residents. Skilled nursing facilities will receive a health citation on their federal inspection if their medication error rate exceeds five percent. This means that nursing homes that make occasional mistakes may not always be violating laws and regulations.

Here are some examples of minor medication errors that may fall within the five percent limit:

  • Giving a medication a few minutes outside of the time window
  • Not giving the resident the last few drops of a medication
  • Not properly mixing the medication
  • Not having eye drops make contact with the eye for a long enough period

However, federal regulations do not permit a nursing home to make a serious medication error. One serious error is enough to lead to a health citation. If this error causes actual harm to a resident, it could lead to a large fine for the nursing home.

Here are some examples of serious medication errors that could lead to a health citation:

  • The most obvious error is giving the resident the wrong medication
  • Leaving the medication in a cup in front of the resident and not verifying that it was taken
  • Injecting medication into the wrong area
  • Giving the resident expired medication
  • Administering the wrong dose of the medication
  • Prescribing the wrong medication
Consequences of a Medication Error

Medication errors may be harmless. The ones that are not can have serious ramifications. They can cause tremors, comas, confusion and other side effects. In a worst-case scenario, they can kill the resident. Alternatively, failure to prescribe or administer the proper medication can cause your loved one to suffer needless pain and suffering.

Statistics on Medication Errors

Most people do not realize exactly how many people die or are injured each year from medication errors. Approximately 1.5 million people in the United States suffer harm from medication errors each year. It is estimated that 800,000 of those injuries occur in nursing homes, where the residents are elderly or infirm. Nearly a quarter of a million Americans die each year from medical mistakes. While not all of these deaths are the result of medication errors, they make up a large part of this overall total.

Why Medication Errors Happen

Two of the major contributors to the prevalence of medication errors at nursing homes are staffing levels and training. Many nursing homes, especially those owned by the largest chains, have been known to keep staffing levels low in order to maximize their profits. Some of these homes have their staff cut to dangerously low levels that do not allow them to provide the appropriate level of care. Administering medications is one of the more time-intensive tasks that nurses have, and it takes up a large part of their day. Each medication run that a nurse makes can take between two and four hours, depending on how many residents must be helped and the effort needed to administer the medicine. In many instances, medication error are a function of having too few nurses. Given that medications must be administered within a certain timeframe, overstretched nurses may be rushing to give residents their medications within the required time.

Lack of training may also be a contributing factor. Different states have varying requirements for who may be allowed to give patients medications. Some states require that nurses be the ones who administer the medicine. Other states allow other staff to perform the function, albeit under the supervision of a nurse. This is a task which must be performed correctly and mistakes cannot happen. In addition to staffing, nursing homes also minimize training levels sometimes in order to maximize profitability. Untrained CNAs or other staff may not have the necessary skills and abilities to adhere to the required level of precision for this task.

Medication Error Lawsuits Against Nursing Homes

When your loved one has experienced a medication error and harm was caused, a medication error lawsuit is the proper recourse. Your attorney will have to show that the error happened and was the “proximate cause” of your loved one’s injury. Below are some examples of lawsuits that have been filed and financial recoveries from nursing homes for medication errors.

Jury Verdict for $1.4 million in Utah (2015) – A nurse gave the resident the wrong medication. Instead of calling attention to the error and helping ensure that the resident was treated for the effects of the improper medication, the nursing home concealed the fact that the mistake was made. The resident died from the mistake. Both the nurse and the nursing home were found responsible for the death and each party was apportioned some of the jury award to pay. When the nurse declared bankruptcy, the nursing home was ordered to pay the entire verdict.

Jury Verdict for $1.5 million in New York (2014) – A nurse accidentally gave the resident a fatal dose of morphine that they mixed into the resident’s applesauce. The prescription was that of another resident and it was mistakenly given to the decedent. The part of the home where this particular resident lived did not have an electronic medication monitoring system which may have been partly to blame for the error. The nurse had identified the president, who had dementia, by asking him if his name was that of the resident who was supposed to receive the morphine.

Settlement for $50,000 in Pennsylvania (2016) – The resident was supposed to be prescribed 5 mg daily of an antidepressant. Due to a clerical mistake, the resident was prescribed 20 mg. After the resident returned to the facility from a hospital stay, his prescription was raised to 40 mg per day. The resident suffered from increased tremors, increased forgetfulness, blurred vision, mobility problems, weight loss, and attention, concentration and speech problems because of the medication.

Settlement for $375,000 in California (2010) – According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff was given three doses of Risperdal, eight doses of Xanax, an injection of Haldol, an injection of Risperdal Consta, and seven doses of Ambien. The resident claimed that he was given these antipsychotic drugs against his will. As a result of the medication, the resident suffered from delirium and short-term paralysis. The resident required a one-month hospital stay in order to treat these conditions. California law requires that the physician must obtain informed consent from the resident before administering psychotropic medications.

Settlement for $850,000 in Illinois (2008) – The plaintiff was staying at the nursing home while awaiting a liver transplant at a hospital. The lawsuit claims that a nurse at the facility mistakenly administered the resident’s roommate’s medication to him. This resulted in a hypoglycemic coma that caused the resident permanent brain damage. The lawsuit further alleged that the nurse failed to tell the resident’s physician of the medication error which would have resulted in more timely treatment.

Verdict for $15,000,000 in North Carolina (1991) – The nursing home intentionally withheld the resident’s prescribed morphine from him. Instead of giving him the medication necessary to ease his pain at the end of his life, the nursing home administered a placebo, causing the dying resident pain and agony. The resident was supposed to be administered morphine every three to four hours, but instead received no morphine for three days.

Did Your Loved One Experience a Medication Error While Residing at a Nursing Home? Get Legal Help Now

There is a strong chance that your loved one has experienced a medication error while living at a skilled nursing facility. You need a lawyer who knows which medication errors are legally actionable and how to fight the nursing homes to recover compensation for your family. The afflialiated network of attorneys at the Nursing Home Law Center have a track record of standing up to the nursing homes when they have harmed your loved one and are trying to escape the consequences. Call us today at (800) 726-9565 to schedule your free no-risk consultation where we can discuss the facts of your case and let you know if we think that you have a viable legal claim. Let us help your family get the justice that it deserves.

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After I read Jonathan’s Nursing Home Blog, I decided to hire him to look into my wife’s treatment at a local nursing home. Jonathan did a great job explaining the process and the laws that apply to nursing homes. I immediately felt at ease and was glad to have him on my side. Though the lawsuit process was at times frustrating, Jonathan reassured me, particularly at my deposition. I really felt like Jonathan cared about my wife’s best interests, and I think that came across to the lawyers for the nursing home. Eric