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Beware: Nursing homes often chemically restrain their patients

If you are one of the numerous New Jersey residents who had to make the painful decision to place your parent in a nursing home, you likely worry that (s)he may not be getting the care (s)he needs and deserves. Unfortunately, you may have more reason to worry than you are aware of.

According to a recent investigation of 15,000 nursing homes nationwide, far too many of them dose significant numbers of their patients with antipsychotic drugs such as Haloperidol, Seroquel and Risperidone whether or not the patients need these drugs. The reason? Such drugs make it easier for nursing home caregivers to control their patients, particularly their elderly patients who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Elder rights advocates assert that this practice amounts to elder abuse via the use of chemical restraints.

The investigation revealed that in some nursing homes, as many as 30 percent of the patients undergo such unauthorized “treatment.” For these patients, no doctor has diagnosed them with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or any other disease that actually requires the use of antipsychotic drugs.

Inadequate oversight

The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 supposedly provides your parent numerous protections once (s)he becomes a nursing home patient. However, the accent is on the word “supposedly.” The protections may be there, but who enforces them? The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is the agency tasked with this oversight. Unfortunately, however, it has a poor history of actually doing its job.

For instance, in the three-year period between 2014 and 2017, The CMMS issued only 7,039 citations to nursing homes for the unauthorized use of drugs. Even more troubling, it collected a mere 3 percent of the “mandatory” fines associated with such violations. It determined that the other 97 percent of these abused patients suffered “no actual harm.”

In addition, although the Federal Drug Administration prohibits the use of antipsychotic drugs in patients suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases and conditions for which these drugs are contraindicated, the CMMS again dropped the ball. It announced two years ago that it was placing a moratorium on rules and regulations of these types.

Your continuing responsibility

Given all this alarming information, you cannot simply assume that your parent’s nursing home is looking out for his or her best interests as compared to its own convenience. Never hesitate to ask your parent’s physician exactly what drugs (s)he has prescribed for him or her and why. Likewise never hesitate to ask your parent’s caregivers, up to and including the nursing home’s director, what drugs your parent actually receives, when and why. If the answers you get to any of your questions seem evasive or are otherwise unsatisfactory, and you suspect that your parent is the victim of chemical restraint, you may wish to consider making a hotline call and/or speaking with an attorney.

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