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Medication Errors in Nursing Homes Can Be Life-Threatening

pile of medication with different color pills

Nursing homes need to put residents' health and safety first

One of a nursing home's most important responsibilities is making sure residents take all their medications as prescribed. Nursing home residents often have complex health issues that require multiple medications to manage effectively. That's why nursing home staff must follow the "five rights" of medication administration:

  • The right resident
  • The right drug
  • The right time
  • The right dose
  • The right route (oral, sublingual, ocular, intravenous, etc.)

Unfortunately, particularly in understaffed facilities with overworked and undertrained staff, medication administration often falls by the wayside, and the consequences for residents can be severe. Medication errors can have serious and even life-threatening consequences. That's why residents' families need to know their legal rights and what they can do to hold the facility accountable.

Examples of medication errors in nursing facilities

Some medication errors are simply a result of being rushed, overworked, and not paying attention. Others are shortcuts intended to get through medication administration quickly instead of following the proper channels with the resident's physician. Some common examples include:

  • Inadequate communication. Nursing home residents often have multiple healthcare providers who prescribe their medications. The facility must ensure that each provider has the information they need about the resident's medical conditions, allergies, and other medications. Nursing home staff must also communicate with each other to ensure residents are taking the right medications at the right time, especially when a medication is changed or discontinued.
  • Altering the medication in an unauthorized manner. For example, while some medications can be cut or crushed without altering the effects on the patient, others come with specific instructions not to do so. Cutting or crushing an extended-release (XR) tablet can cause the resident's body to absorb all the medication at once instead of over time.
  • Failing to prepare the medication appropriately. On the other hand, some medications should be cut, crushed, or otherwise prepared for the resident. Many suspension medications must be shaken or mixed to ensure the resident gets the right dosage. If the medication is not properly mixed, the resident may get too much or too little.
  • Not following instructions regarding food and drink. The amount of food and/or liquid in a resident's stomach can make a significant difference in how the body absorbs the medication. Some medications must be taken with food; others must be taken on an empty stomach. Nursing homes need to plan medication administration around mealtimes to ensure that these instructions are followed. They also need to ensure that residents are adequately hydrated while taking medications.
  • Letting residents swallow sublingual tables. This is a common example of a "wrong route" error. If a medication is meant to be taken sublingually (under the tongue), then swallowing the tablet instead can cause it to be absorbed incorrectly. If a resident doesn't want to put the tablet under their tongue, then the medication needs to be changed by their physician.
  • LASA drugs. LASA is an acronym for "Look-Alike Sound-Alike" — that is, medications that are easily confused because they have similar names and similar physical appearances, such as prednisone and prednisolone or dimenhydrinate and diphenhydramine. Nursing home staff need to check and double-check to ensure each resident is getting the right medication.

Giving a resident the right medications is not the end of the nursing home's responsibilities. The facility also needs to monitor residents for interactions and side effects, keeping in mind that those symptoms may present differently in an elderly patient. And they need to properly respond to any medication errors, including notifying the resident's physician, getting the resident appropriate medical care if necessary, and making adjustments to their policies and procedures to ensure that the same mistake doesn't happen again.

What to do if your loved one was harmed by a medication error in a nursing home

Medication errors are a serious form of nursing home neglect that can have severe and life-threatening consequences for residents. That's why facilities need to follow standards of care and minimize the risk of harm. It's also why they need to be held accountable when they do not meet those standards of care. An experienced nursing home neglect attorney can help.

If your loved one was harmed by a medication error in a nursing home, you need to know your legal rights and options. We have decades of experience holding negligent nursing homes accountable and pursuing justice for residents and their families. Call or contact us online for a free consultation with Shuttlesworth Law Firm LLC.

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