Yes. In fact, some analysts and researchers have estimated that the number of preventable hospital readmissions among nursing home residents is as high as 60 percent. What these needless transfers from nursing homes to hospitals and back (and so on and so forth) do in real terms is increase patient risks for medication errors, falls, infections and other types of harm and cost Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Our last blog entry focused on the general topic of medication errors in West Virginia nursing homes. This one focuses on the related specific problem of drug thefts in nursing homes.
Medication errors occur far too frequently in nursing homes here in West Virginia and throughout the United States. Most examples of this type of nursing home negligence involve one of the following three scenarios: A) the wrong medication was given by mistake; B) the medication was given later than it should have been or not at all; or C) too much medication was given by mistake or intentionally to make up for a missed dose.
Thousands of nursing home injuries and deaths are caused by medication errors each year, including many in West Virginia. Sadder still is the fact that some of those "medication errors" aren't really errors at all -- rather, they are deliberate attempts to use powerful and potentially deadly pharmaceutical drugs as a means to control nursing home residents.
Anti-psychotic medications can be used to effectively inhibit aggressive or combative behavior in people who suffer from schizophrenia or disorders with similar symptoms. However, because anti-psychotics can also cause sudden blood pressure drops, irregular heart rhythms and other serious health problems in people who suffer from dementia -- government regulators say that these powerful drugs should not be used on nursing home residents who have Alzheimer's or other ailments related to dementia.
Medication mistakes are a fairly common problem in West Virginia nursing homes. Nationally, in fact, it is estimated that nursing homes are the site of nearly 800,000 preventable "adverse drug events" each year. The larger tragedy is that many of these medication errors could be avoided with better coordination between staff members and improved safety practices, particularly when patients are going to transfer to or have just arrived at a new facility.
The decision to move a loved one to a nursing home is a serious decision for family members. In an effort to ensure they chose the best nursing home, well-intended sons and daughters may visit the facility multiple times, observe how staff members interact with residents and ask for health inspection records. What many families do not realize, however, is that many nursing home accidents and deaths occur as the result of overmedication and medication errors.