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Overmedication in Nursing Homes

Placing a loved one into the care of a residential nursing facility involves a high degree of trust. Caregivers in nursing homes, from unlicensed assistants to the licensed nurses and doctors who oversee medical services, are placed in a challenging position of managing the wellbeing of people who cannot fully care for themselves. Dispensing medication is a key function of nursing homes. It can also be a source of problems. Overmedication can be a consequence of abuse, where the dispensing employee is deliberately trying to harm the patient. But it can also arise where a facility’s staff overuses medication to keep residents under control.

Professional negligence in a nursing home context

Given the complex challenges involved in caring for especially infirm patients, it’s easy to understand why caregivers can make choices that, after the fact, appear to have been wrong. The nursing home context may on the one hand give some leeway for professionals to administer medication for palliative purposes. But the risks in the nursing home context only heighten the importance of good practices and careful medication management. Overmedication could be a sign of professional negligence. In Nevada, professional negligence is defined as “the failure of a provider of health care, in rendering services, to use the reasonable care, skill or knowledge ordinarily used under similar circumstances by similarly trained and experienced providers of health care.” NRS 41A.015. The definition of “provider of health care” for professional negligence purposes is limited to (among other things) licensed physicians and nurses, as well as licensed hospitals, clinics, and other organizations that employ such professionals. It’s worth noting that the operator of a nursing home may not fall under this definition if it has “outsourced” its medical care. Instead, the licensed professionals overseeing and administering care, as well as their employer, will need to be identified. The complex conditions in a nursing home may make a professional negligence claim more difficult than might be the case in an ordinary case of medical malpractice (i.e., objects left in a patient’s body after surgery). The decisions made in connection with a resident’s care will be measured according to a “reasonableness” standard, which leaves ample room for professionals to use their judgment when doing things like administering medicine. To successfully sue, the plaintiff will need to gather supporting facts to show that the nursing home staff administered medications in a way that was not reasonable under the circumstances. For example, it may be unreasonable to keep a patient continuously sedated for the convenience of the staff rather than because the patient is especially prone to risky behavior.

When negligence turns into abuse

Unfortunately, abuse in nursing homes is more common than one would hope. Nevada law defines unlawful abuse as the willful and unjustified infliction of pain, injury, or mental anguish upon a victim who is 60 or older or is physically or mentally impaired. NRS 41.1395. If nursing home staff is intentionally overmedicating a patient not for professionally reasonable purposes but rather to deliberately cause the patient injury, an abuse claim may apply. A successful claim of abuse can recover double damages. Cases involving overmedication will involve difficult questions of proof. Blood testing or an autopsy may reveal that the patient had toxic levels of medication in their system. However, the question is not just whether too much medicine was administered, but whether the medicine was justified under the circumstances. Once again the professional judgment of the caregivers will be carefully examined. Perhaps the patient needed to be perpetually sedated due to a tendency toward self-harm. On the other hand, evidence like statements about a desire to hurt patients could shift the analysis the other way.

Call a Las Vegas personal injury lawyer to discuss your case

If you are concerned that your loved one may have suffered neglect or abuse in a nursing home it’s essential to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has helped clients in the Las Vegas area recover compensation in personal injury cases for over 45 years. For a free attorney consultation call us at 702-388-4476 or contact us through our website.