Nursing Homes and Medication Errors

Nursing Home

According to the National Coordination 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.” These events occur far too often at nursing homes, and they often cause serious injury. When this happens, the nursing home may be liable to your loved one and your family on a theory of nursing home negligence.

Errant prescriptions are one example of medical mistakes, because doctors may order the wrong medicine or the incorrect dose. In nursing homes, medicine administration errors are even more common, as a moment of neglect can have serious consequences.

What Causes Medication Errors in Nursing Homes?

Understaffing is endemic among nursing homes, as the number of federal staffing inspections steadily declines and administrators get ready to face a “silver tsunami” of new patients. Understaffing manifests itself in two ways, and both of them can cause medication errors.

  • Lack of People: In low staffing environments, management often expects the people who remain to take on additional responsibilities. And, when a nurse tries to multitask, it is much easier to misread a doctor’s order, transpose a digit, or commit some similar error.
  • Lack of Training: Sometimes, rather than reducing staff, management reduces qualifications; for example, a patient tech may perform duties that a licensed vocational nurse should handle. These lower-skilled employees simply lack the training and experience required to work in certain areas, including medication administration.

In both these situations, the nursing home is clearly liable for damages, either because of respondeat superior (the boss is responsible for a subordinate’s mistakes) or negligent hiring (the boss has a duty to hire employees that are well-qualified to perform assigned tasks).

Adverse Drug Events are a serious issue as well. Many times, doctors do not properly account for all patient variables, including age, weight, medication allergies, and overall health, when they prescribe medicine. As a result, there are about 800,000 ADEs every year at long-term care facilities, and many of them result in serious injury.

The nursing home is often responsible for a physician’s negligence, mostly because of the respondeat superior theory mentioned above.

Damages Available

If a loved one was injured because of a medication error at a nursing home, compensation usually includes money for tangible damages, such as medical bills, as well as intangible damages, such as pain and suffering. Significant punitive damages may be available as well, if there is clear and convincing evidence that the nursing home intentionally or recklessly disregarded patient safety. Talk to an attorney right away if you think you have a claim.