April 9, 2012

Recent Government Audit Shows that 1 in 7 Elderly Patients Given Drugs that Shorten Their Lives

by Levin & Perconti

Our Chicago nursing home negligence attorneys were distraught to read an article in the New York Times stating that a recent government audit found that approximately one in seven elderly nursing home residents, nearly all of them suffering from dementia, are given powerful atypical antipsychotic drugs even though the medicines increase the risks of death and are not approved for such treatments.

When nursing homes undertake to provide services to individuals, part of the responsibility that the facility takes on is the duty to supervise and protect every resident in its facility. That duty includes looking out for the best interest of every patient. When employees of nursing homes fail to do that, Illinois nursing home negligence cases may arise.

This particular investigation found that more than half of the antipsychotics paid for by the federal Medicare program in the first half of 2007 were “erroneous,” and a total of $116 million worth of antipsychotic medications were improperly distributed over a period of six months, reported the New York Times.

In the past, the US Food and Drug Administration has published public warnings that using antipsychotic drugs to treat elderly patients with dementia increases those patients’ risk of death, which makes this situation even scarier. Without patients’ consent, doctors are making decisions about dangerous medications, and those choices may be shortening the lives of the unknowing patients.

Furthermore, this risky behavior breaks federal laws regarding Medicare; the New York Times reports that federal rules require that any drugs that are paid for by the government be given only for uses that are approved either by the government or one of three independent drug usage encyclopedias. The use of antipsychotics to treat dementia is not one of those covered uses, which means that when the drugs are funded by government programs such as Medicare, tax payers are bearing the burden of the improper use of government funds.

Care providers owe a duty of care to their patients. When that duty is breached and the patient is harmed, the professional may be required to answer to a personal injury lawsuit. Additionally, the hospitals or facilities for which the responsible doctor or nurse works may also be legally liable; in general, healthcare institutions have the responsibility to supervise their staff to ensure that mistakes aren’t made, and to hire professionals who have enough knowledge to competently treat patients.

Injuries caused by negligent behavior on the part of healthcare providers are devastating and potentially life altering. Our Chicago personal injury lawyers have handled a number of these types of cases, and even won a $914,000 nursing home lawsuit settlement for the family of a former Lincolnwood resident who died after suffering a stroke as a result of the nursing home's failure to properly administer her blood-thinning medication.

If you or a loved one has suffered as a result of a health care provider’s negligence, contact an attorney to be apprised of your rights under the law.