Massachusetts regulators combat nursing home drug practices

Families who are struggling to meet the complex needs of elderly family members often look to nursing homes to help provide care. Usually, relatives are assured that the needs of their loved ones are met inside such establishments.

Nursing homes employ many staff members who are responsible for administering drugs to patients and assisting residents in such daily routines as taking a bath and going to the toilet. Unfortunately, nursing home negligence incidents are increasingly common across the country.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is the federal agency that regulates nursing homes. A representative of this center stated that 425 Massachusetts nursing homes were cited for unnecessary or incorrect drug administration from 2009 to 2011. Unfortunately, state regulators rarely took action against these facilities. Inspectors did not consider the incidents serious enough or believed that the regulations were ambiguous.

According to the federal agency, many of these facilities are administering strong antipsychotic medications to subdue some residents who struggled with behavior problems related to dementia. Based on federal guidelines, antipsychotic drugs should only be administered to patients with severe mental illness. Experts say that the drugs are actually dangerous for patients with dementia.

Because of the prevalent use of sedatives, some residents reportedly have trouble simply opening their mouths to eat, and some are unable to do physical activities or stay awake.

The federal agency warns the nursing homes that antipsychotic sedatives have potentially fatal side effects. The federal department would also like state agencies to more strictly enforce the applicable regulations.

The agency is in the final stages of setting guidelines for the proper use of antipsychotics, and fines will be imposed on nursing homes that do not follow the guidelines. This may improve treatment inside these nursing home facilities.

Families and relatives of residents in nursing homes should forward their concerns to authorities with regard to any mistreatment of their loved ones at a nursing home. If necessary, the family members can file a lawsuit against a nursing home facility to recover damages and hold the responsible parties accountable.

Source: The Boston Globe, “Report: Mass. Rarely nixes nursing home sedatives” Dec. 23, 2012