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California Judge Strikes Down Nursing Home Law for Incompetent Residents

The Alameda County Superior Court recently ruled that a California law allowing nursing home staff to make medical decisions for certain residents was unconstitutional. Our nursing home abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins discuss this case and who will be affected below.

The law at issue was enacted in 1992 because nursing homes needed a way to administer medical treatment to incompetent residents who did not have anyone to represent them. In 2013, after more than 20 years on the books, the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Public Health over the law. The suit claimed that nursing homes were using it to drug residents with anti-psychotic medications, put residents in physical restraints, and deny residents life-sustaining treatments.

The judge in this case made his decision on June 24, 2015, stating that the law violated residents' right to due process by failing to require staff to notify residents or give them a chance to object to their treatment plans. He further wrote that nursing homes making end-of-life decisions without patients input is a huge concern that often results in serious consequences, including death.

The judge acknowledged that his decision was likely to create problems in nursing home operations, but stated that residents' rights were far more important and the stakes too high. Nursing home residents who are deemed mentally incompetent and who have non representative (such as family members or a power of attorney) have been largely ignored by the Department of Public Health. It is not known yet whether or not the Department will appeal the decision.

Antipsychotics in Nursing Homes

Antipsychotic drugs are prescribed to treat serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Because they are so powerful, the FDA places strict guidelines on these medications prohibiting them from being given to elderly patients and those with dementia. Still, hundreds of thousands of nursing home residents in the U.S. are currently receiving antipsychotic drugs, typically to suppress aggressive dementia symptoms.

Giving antipsychotic drugs to a nursing home resident unnecessarily is not only illegal, but extremely dangerous as well. These drugs can hasten death, lead to infection, and cause severe decline in the residents'' quality of life. Misusing antipsychotic drugs is one of the most common practices causing serious harm to residents.

Some of the most popular antipsychotic drugs include Seroquel (quetiapine), Risperdal (risperidone), Zyprexa (olanzapine), and Haldol (haloperidol).

What if a resident does suffer from schizophrenia or another serious psychological condition? Many studies have found that doctors can safely reduce the dose of antipsychotics in elderly patients with schizophrenia. In one study, doctors reduced antipsychotic dosing by about 35%, with the vast majority of patients remaining stable. Researchers in this study concluded that reducing antipsychotics in elderly schizophrenia patients improved adverse effects and unexpectedly improved clinical symptoms.

Our Chicago elder abuse attorneys are currently accepting cases of serious injury from overmedication or wrongful medication. If your loved one is receiving powerful drugs unnecessarily from nursing home staff, you may be able to file a nursing home abuse lawsuit. Contact our firm today for a free case review. We accept clients nationwide.