A nursing home was fined $360,000 recently after six of its patients died under suspicious circumstances in 2006. One nurse at the facility was indicted on criminal charges that included four counts of criminal neglect of a long-term care resident, one count of obtaining morphine by fraud, and one count of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance. Another nurse was charged with five counts of criminal neglect of a long-term care resident and two counts of obstructing justice.
Charges were filed after investigators from the state department of health concluded that six patients were drugged using with narcotic "cocktails" that contained morphine. One nurse reportedly said she drugged patients so they "would not be bothering her during her shift." Regarding one restless patient, one of the two nurses charged told a co-worker, "She won't make it through the day. I made sure of that." Read more about the investigation.
This report brings to mind several issues. One, narcotics and other drugs are too often used to sedate patients at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Based on the theory that a drugged patient requires less care than one who has not been sedated, nursing homes and assisted living facilities far too often "restrain" patients chemically. Second, narcotics are too freely available to staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities and are diverted for use or sale by nurses that remove them from patients' medication inventories. When direct care providers steal patients' medications, the patients who require pain relief suffer unmitigated pain and impaired nurses and aides cannot competently provide care.
Finally, suspicious deaths should be just as thoroughly investigated as those for which the cause of death is certain. If you, as the family or friend of a nursing home or assisted living patient, think the information you are being provided about a suspicious injury or death doesn't pass the "smell test," stop, ask questions, get copies of documents, and contact a lawyer to investigate. If you don't, you'll always ask yourself why you didn't!
Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.