What You Need to Know about Medication Errors in Nursing Homes

Negligence and abuse in nursing homes are entirely too common, but they aren’t the only danger. Some of our most vulnerable loved ones rely on nursing homes for care, but the burden and stress of said care can lead to errors. So what do you do when your or a loved one is given the wrong medication? And how can we prevent these errors from occurring?

Medication errors come in a variety of incidents. Perhaps a doctor mixed up two similar medication names or grabbed the wrong dosage. Maybe a licensed nurse in a nursing home mixed up room numbers. Either way, you or a loved one were given a medication that caused harmful side effects. Errors can occur at any time in the medication process, from prescription to administration.

These errors are not strictly confined to nursing homes. Hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and hospices can also experience mixups and mistakes.

Can Medication Errors Be Prevented?

In an ideal world, medication errors wouldn’t happen. But nursing homes and medical centers are staffed by humans, and humans make mistakes– sometimes devastating ones. However, we can reduce the prevalence of medication errors.

Understanding what leads to medication errors in nursing homes and other care facilities can help us know what steps we can take to prevent them. In addition, the types of medical errors and the overall cause can help us develop strategies and practices to prevent them from occurring again.

Types of Medication Errors

The most common medication errors can be divided into two categories: prescription and medical history errors and incorrect administration.

Misdiagnosis, form errors, dosage errors, and medication mixture errors can cause prescription and medical history errors. For example, if a doctor misdiagnosis a medical condition, then they will prescribe unnecessary medication. The side effects of this medication, both standard and from taking it unnecessarily, can cause harm to you or your loved one. Sometimes, doctors miss contraindications between prescriptions. This means that a medication that treats the illness does not mix with a medicine you already take, and combining them can cancel out their effects or make you ill.

Administration errors can be accidental, but they can also be malicious. For example, there could be a mixup in how the patient should take the medication, such as the nurse having them swallow it whole instead of letting it dissolve under their tongue. Some errors are a matter of timing: they need to be given routinely to work correctly, but scheduling issues lead to the medicine being early or late. And then there is the worst-case scenario: nursing home abuse. Some nurses will give residents medication they don’t need to cause fatigue. A drowsy resident is a resident that doesn’t need attention.

Causes of Medication Errors

Medication errors are rarely malicious. The most common cause overall is miscommunication among the care team. Nursing homes are not free of communication errors, especially during staff shift changes. Other problems can be inadequate training or negligent hiring practices, leading to nurses who haven’t finished the proper certifications handling drugs for which they haven’t been trained.

Nursing homes are also often understaffed, meaning the available nurses have an oversized burden of care. The more stressed and busy a nurse is, the more likely they will make a mistake. Unfortunately, mistakes with medicine can have devastating results.

Another cause is malicious intent. Some people should not work among vulnerable populations, but they manage to hide their true intentions and actions. They may want to keep residents tired so that they have less work to do, or they may have a vendetta against a patient for any number of ‘reasons.’ Regardless, abuse in nursing homes is a possibility with any medication errors.

What to Do When a Medication Error Occurs

When a medication error is discovered, the first and most important thing to do is get your loved one proper medical care. They may need emergency services depending on the severity of the effects or illness. In some cases, a medication error can lead to death. Therefore, time is of the essence to protect the victim.

Once they are cared for, it’s time to gather information. Gather the full names and credentials of the staff, and get your relative’s medical records. Once you have the documentation together, it’s time to call Adult Protective Services (APS).

APS is a national agency that responds to reports of abuse, exploitation, or neglect of adults. Their investigation will determine who is liable and if the error was abuse or a mistake. If there is abuse, then APS will help stop the abuse and hold the nursing home accountable. If they determine it is not abuse, their help will end; however, you can still seek aid through a civil lawsuit.

At the very least, the nurse responsible for the error may be disciplined by the state board of nursing and likely fired. They are at risk of civil and criminal charges as well. None of these consequences touch on the emotional and mental effects of causing harm to a patient. 

When to Hire a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer

If APS finds evidence of abuse, they will handle criminal charges in a court case. If they do not, or if you want to seek compensation yourself, then you will want to reach out to a nursing home abuse lawyer in your state. Nursing Home Abuse falls under Personal Injury law. An experienced lawyer can help you gather all the evidence and documentation you need to receive compensation. These cases aren’t about getting rich on the back of your or your loved one’s suffering; instead, it’s about having the money to cover the costs of medical care and to punish those responsible for the medication error.

If you are a victim of abuse in a nursing home, or if you think your loved one is being abused, please reach out to Nursing Home Law Center LLC for a free case evaluation and referral to a local partnered lawyer.

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