How Medication Errors Turn Into Nursing Home Abuse

How Medication Errors Turn Into Nursing Home Abuse is contributed by Walton Law in July, 2023, as an online article at

"In the eyes of Washington state law, medication errors hurt residents and are considered nursing home neglect or abuse."

Unfortunately, nursing home abuse occurs more frequently than you might think, even in the Puget Sound region. While many forms of abuse leave physical marks (like a scratch or bruise), some forms of abuse leave invisible scars, which are no less harmful than physical abuse. Besides financial and emotional abuse, this is also the case of medication errors, which occur when someone makes a mistake in prescribing, dispensing, and giving medications.

Examples of Medication Errors in Nursing Homes

Here are a few ways that medication errors can occur in Whatcom and Skagit County nursing home facilities:

    • Cutting/slicing pills that aren’t supposed to be split.
    • Providing inadequate liquids, antacids, or food.
    • Failing to mix, shake or roll the medication.
    • Not following enteral nutritional formulas.
    • Improperly giving eye drops.
    • Having residents swallow sublingual medications.

Nursing home medication errors generally fit into two categories:

    1. Careless mistakes
    2. Intentional drug misuse

Although it’s helpful to describe the medication errors by category, it’s important to understand that regardless of classification, in the eyes of Washington state law, medication errors hurt residents and are considered nursing home neglect or abuse.

Careless Mistakes

This occurs when a nursing home staff member inadvertently or mistakenly messes up the medication for the resident. It can occur by missing medications (omissions), duplicating medications, dosing errors, or via drug interactions. Specifically, some dosing errors can happen in the following ways:

    • The staff member gives the resident the wrong dose of their medication.
    • The staff member gives the resident another resident’s medication.
    • The staff member improperly administers the medication (providing the meds at the wrong time).
    • The staff member fails to administer the doses of medication at all, so the resident doesn’t receive the benefit of the drug.

While careless errors may occur due to several reasons, they are generally the result of nursing home problems, such as understaffing and overworking employees. An employee may have confused medications with similar names due to being overly tired. However, the nursing home residents need the appropriate doses of their medication to help keep them healthy, both physically and mentally, and in the most extreme cases– to survive. Therefore, careless mistakes can’t be tolerated in this environment. When an unintentional mistake happens, it’s considered neglect, which is a form of abuse in Washington state.

Intentional Misuse

There may be no excuse for careless medication mistakes, but intentional misuse is indefensible. Unfortunately, this is something that happens in local nursing homes, especially when it comes to purposefully misuse chemical restraints. 

Chemical restraints may be used in limited circumstances. However, nursing home staff members have used generic antipsychotic meds (without permission) as a means to keep residents passive and compliant, even for those who don’t have any clinical reason for taking that medication.

What to do about medication errors in nursing homes?

Medication errors are not only a sign of incompetence in the nursing home, but also a sign of neglect, or abuse in the case of intentional misuse. If your loved one was harmed by a medication error in their Skagit or Whatcom County nursing home, there may be legal actions to recover compensation for the mistake. Walton Law attorneys can review your case and share options with you. Call 360-543-1010.

Walton Law, APC
Washington Office

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