Medication Errors in Nursing Homes

medical error text on a paper with pills and stethoscope on table

Tragically, we see many cases at The Dickson Firm involving medication errors in nursing homes.

Recently, we represented a resident of a nursing home for whom his physician had prescribed a 100 microgram per hour fentanyl patch. Fentanyl is a very powerful narcotic. It is very effective for pain relief. However, it is very strong. 100 micrograms per hour is a very large dose of fentanyl. When a resident has a fentanyl patch on, that patch delivers 100 micrograms per hour of fentanyl every hour until it is removed or until the fentanyl in the patch runs out. For whatever reason, this resident's doctor prescribed a 100 microgram per hour fentanyl patch to be worn for three (3) days after which the resident was to receive a second 100 microgram per hour fentanyl patch for another three (3) days. This resident had never received fentanyl in the past. The strongest pain relief that he was prescribed at that time was Tylenol.

Unfortunately, the doctor prescribed the fentanyl, which was malpractice. The nurse at the nursing home administered the fentanyl without checking the resident's chart. She did not look at his chart to figure out that he had never had fentanyl before. She did not talk with any other nurses at the nursing home. She simply applied the patch.

The next morning his wife came to visit him and he was sound asleep and unresponsive. His wife asked what the issue was. The nurse simply told her that he had had a rough night and that she should go get some breakfast and come back. She left, she came back hours later. He was still unresponsive. She asked the facility why he had a patch on his arm. They told him it was his fentanyl. She immediately indicated that he had never had fentanyl before. They removed the patch. They called 911. The paramedics administered Narcan. He was rushed to the hospital where he received additional Narcan. Tragically, he passed away shortly thereafter from an overdose of fentanyl.

Why Do Medication Errors Happen?

The nurse at the nursing home should never have administered the fentanyl patch. Unfortunately, many nursing homes experience high staff turnover. They experience understaffing. They often have to hire agency nurses to come in. Both newly hired nurses and agency nurses are unfamiliar with the residents at the nursing home. As a result, they are obligated to check the resident's chart. They're obligated to check the resident's history. Does the resident have a history of receiving fentanyl, for example. This nurse did not determine at all whether this resident was in any pain. The records clearly indicate that the resident was not in pain. There was no need for him to receive fentanyl. This nurse did not review his records to see if he had ever had Fentanyl before. This resident's tragic death was completely avoidable. It was caused by the malpractice of the physician, and the gross negligence of the nurses at the nursing home. The nurse who administered the fentanyl patch was at fault. And the nurses on the night shift who did not check on the resident, and did not question why he had been administered a fentanyl patch, were at fault.

Tragically, these types of medication errors occur in nursing homes throughout Ohio and throughout the country. The Dickson Firm recently handled a case involving a resident who was at a nursing home. One of the nurses who was working at that nursing home had been criminally charged at her last job for stealing pain medication from her patients. Despite the fact that she was fired from her prior job for stealing pain medication from her patients, the nursing home where this resident was a resident, hired her to care for the residents at that nursing home.

Nursing homes have an obligation to run a background check on their potential employees. They have an obligation to check their background. And they have an obligation to only hire people who are qualified and suitable to work at the nursing home. They should not hire people with a history of stealing narcotics. They should not hire people with a history of abusing their residents. And yet tragically, it does happen.

Narcotics are closely monitored. There are a variety of reporting requirements for narcotics that are imposed on nursing homes. When The Dickson Firm handles a case involving a medication error, they can usually obtain the relevant documents, and track whether or not medication has been administered improperly.

One of the reasons the nursing homes need to be particularly careful about who they hire is that it's particularly difficult to prove that a staff person is stealing narcotics from their patient. The nurse goes into a resident's room with an oral medication, she claims to have given that medication to the resident. The resident can't speak. The resident can't say that they did not get their medication. The nurse pockets the medication so she can take it herself at a later time or sell it. The patient is left in pain and unable to tell anyone what happened.

Advocating for Patients Who Can’t Advocate for Themselves

One of the reasons that we at The Dickson Firm are dedicated to the rights and the well being of nursing home residents throughout the State of Ohio, is that many of these residents cannot speak for themselves. They cannot advocate for themselves. They are among the most vulnerable people in our state. They need protection. There are many, many laws that have been passed by both the state and the federal government to protect these residents. Unfortunately, many nursing homes ignore these laws and don't enforce them.

By pursuingpursing cases against these nursing homes that neglect and abuse their residents, The Dickson Firm enforces the Nursing Home Residents' Bill of Rights. We investigate cases involving medication errors. We investigate all types of cases involving neglect and abuse.

If someone you love has been neglected or abused in a nursing home, please call us 1 800 OHIO LAW as we would always be happy to talk with you and help you in any way that we can.