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Nursing Homes Are Over-Medicating Some Patients

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal has a heart-breaking story about prescription abuse in U.S. nursing homes. The first three paragraphs of the article say it all

In recent years, Medicaid has spent more money on antipsychotic drugs for Americans than on any other class of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, AIDS drugs or medicine to treat high-blood pressure.

One reason: Nursing homes across the U.S. are giving these drugs to elderly patients to quiet symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Nearly 30% of the total nursing-home population is receiving antipsychotic drugs, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, known as CMS. In a practice known as “off label” use of prescription drugs, patients can get these powerful medicines whether they are psychotic or not. CMS says nearly 21% of nursing-home patients who don’t have a psychosis diagnosis are on antipsychotic drugs.

The root of this problem is staffing. Unfortunately, my grandmother had Alzheimer’s. We placed her in a wonderful facility with an excellent reputation that provided excellent care. Unfortunately, the person in charge of her facility and several other key aides left, and the quality of care dropped dramatically. We eventually moved her to another facility where she stayed until she passed away. I don’t know if the first facility was over-medicating her, but I’ve always had my suspicions.

And this scenario plays out all across the country. Nursing homes, often relying on Medicare or Medicaid payments that seem too low, are unable or many times unwilling to spend the money to hire good caretakers. And the less skilled workers, instead of doing the hard work to care for the residents, take the easy way out by relying on medication.

Perhaps this story can help change some of those trends.

Thanks to the Roanoke Injuryboard website for their thoughts on the story.

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