By Howard S. Krooks, Esq., CELA, CAP and Mrs. Gladys Krooks, My Own Mother’s Journey Through the Long-Term Care System, Part 3
In part three of my ongoing series on my own mother’s journey through the long-term care system, we discuss problems with medication management at hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. One of my mother’s biggest concerns when she was in a hospital and subsequent long-term care facility last year was her ability to get her proper medication on her regular, doctor-prescribed regimen.
If you’ve ever been in a hospital or spent time in a long-term care facility, you’ve probably been given a paper cup with your medication in it. My mom received her meds this way, too, but sometimes she’d get the wrong medication in the cup, or she’d get the right medication at the wrong times, or at different times during the day. According to my mom, “I guess you have to be lucky to come out of there alive.”
My mom is one of the fortunate ones because she is accustomed to managing her own medications and knows what she needs to take and when. On some occasions, when my mom was brought the wrong medication, she knew immediately and was able to speak up and get the right medication. At other times, the nurses brought her medication late or forgot to bring her medication at all. Thankfully, she was able to chase down the nurses to correct the situation when this happened. Sadly, not everyone is capable of advocating for themselves or knowledgeable enough about medications, so if they don’t get their medications or worse yet, take the wrong medications, tragic outcomes have occurred.
One night, my mom was expecting to receive her medication after dinner, but she never received it. When the nurse came in to check on her, my mom informed her of that fact. The nurse assured my mom that she would be back, yet she never returned. My mom ended up waiting up until the 11 p.m. shift change so she could inform the new nurse and get her medication – hours late at that point. For patients on a specific or strict medication schedule, this can throw off their whole treatment or recovery.
Once when she was staying at a long-term care facility, my mom brought her glaucoma drops from home and kept it in her purse to take when she needed to. At most facilities, general policy precludes patients from bringing in or taking medications on their own. All medications are to be distributed by the nurses, but after my mom’s prior experiences with medication management by the facility, she wasn’t taking any chances with regard to her glaucoma medication!
According to AARP, seniors report taking an average of four different prescription drugs daily. It’s not uncommon for people over age 65 to take five or more prescription drugs daily. Many folks fill daily or weekly pill dispensers to help them organize and keep track of their medication schedule. When you’re in a hospital or skilled nursing facility, the nurses are supposed to be on top of medication administration. This is a critical part of their job. However, the National Institutes of Health report that medication errors are a fairly common problem in health care settings, affecting 7 million patients and costing about $21 billion per year. Various circumstances may lead to errors and most are preventable.
Some of the common medication mistakes that have been reported include giving too much or too little medicine, using an incorrect administration technique, failing to monitor a patient after giving a medication, giving expired medications, giving the wrong form or strength of a medication, slicing or cutting a pill that shouldn’t be split, providing inadequate liquids with medications, providing inadequate food with medications, failing to mix, share or roll the medication properly, documenting the administration incorrectly, or even diverting medication to steal or sell to others.
Some factors that can contribute to improper medication management and lead to medication dispensing errors include a high workload or not enough staff, mixing up look-alike or sound-alike drugs, lack of knowledge or experience, distractions and interruptions, and communication problems between the dispensary and staff. Although it’s not common, severe patient injury, allergies and adverse drug interactions, hospitalizations or even deaths can occur from these very preventable errors.
If you or your elder loved ones have any questions or concerns about medication management in a hospital or long-term care facility, be sure to notify the facility immediately. Contact us for more information or to schedule a consultation today at 1-800-ELDERLAW or (561) 750-3850.