January 2010 Archives

January 29, 2010

Drug Company Sued for Paying Kickbacks to Nursing Home Company Operating in Pennsylvania

Our Pennsylvania nursing home negligence lawyers were disturbed to see a recent report suggesting some nursing homes have intentionally over-medicated their patients. The New York Times reported Jan. 15 that federal regulators have sued Johnson & Johnson for paying illegal kickbacks to a nursing home pharmaceutical distributor named Omnicare. The complaint in Boston federal court said Johnson & Johnson paid Omnicare to buy its products. Those products included prescription drugs like the powerful antipsychotic Risperdal, which is frequently used off-label to control behavior in patients with dementia. The Justice Department accused Johnson & Johnson of committing Medicaid fraud by inflating the number of prescriptions it paid.

Omnicare is a "middleman" that manages insurance issues, processes payments and distributes medications. The government alleges that it took illegal payments from Johnson & Johnson from 1999 to 2004. Among other things, the lawsuit says the drug maker paid for information previously distributed for free, and paid rebates every quarter based on Omnicare's success at switching patients to its drugs from competitors' drugs. These rebates are legal, but only if Medicaid gets the same discount as other large purchasers. The lawsuit says Johnson & Johnson tried to disguise its rebates to Omnicare in quarterly reports to the government.

As Philadelphia nursing home abuse attorneys, we wonder how many other companies may be guilty of similar behavior. Kickbacks are particularly dangerous in nursing homes because they encourage nursing homes to over-prescribe medicines. Some of these medicines may be appropriate, but they can also carry serious side effects. In fact, we wrote here last week about problems with the atypical antipsychotic Risperdal, which carries an FDA warning that it may increase the risk of death in elderly patients with dementia.

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January 27, 2010

Philadelphia Nursing Home Incorrectly Tells Family Resident Died

Our Philadelphia nursing home neglect attorneys were very interested in a news report about an unusual form of negligence by a nursing home. According to a Jan. 19 article in the Philadelphia Daily News, a Northeast Philadelphia nursing home mistakenly told the wife and son of 81-year-old Leonard Cantz that he had died. Dolores Cantz and her son Michael began making funeral arrangements and gathering their family, only to receive another call, five hours later, saying there'd been a mistake. The nursing home staff had mixed up Cantz's name with that of another patient, and he was very much still alive.

Leonard Cantz lives in the home because he has Alzheimer's disease, which means he didn't realize the home's mistake. But the first call was very upsetting for Dolores and Michael Cantz, who first heard that an ambulance was on its way to the home. Michael Cantz took the day off work and rushed to the home, but called en route and was told that his father was already dead. Upset and grieving, they called a funeral home to make arrangements. When the funeral home's representative arrived, he found Leonard Cantz still alive. It was only after he arrived at the nursing home that the home's staff realized their mistake and called the family back to explain. The family was delighted to find him still alive, but upset to be launched into the grieving process by mistake.

As Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawyers, we normally handle cases involving abuse or neglect of the patient. But this type of negligence by nursing home staff may also be actionable, especially if it causes severe loss of income, medical or funeral bills and extreme emotional distress.

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January 20, 2010

Magazine Nursing Home Rankings Provide Resource for Pennsylvania Families

Families looking for a safe, loving and dignified home for their loved ones should turn to a recent issue of U.S. News & World Report magazine. As Philadelphia nursing home negligence attorneys, we're glad to say that the magazine has created a resource for families similar to its yearly college rankings. The magazine offers starred rankings of several aspects of each home, along with indicators of homes with problems and information on their ownership, size and whether they take Medicare or Medicaid. It has also published a four-step guide to choosing a nursing home.

The "how to choose" guide is actually four separate guides, each focusing on a separate part of the process. The first guide asks readers to decide whether a home is truly necessary, the second shows how to build a short list, and the third explains what to look for at the all-important on-site visit. The fourth and final article explains how to follow up to ensure that your choice is working out. The rankings themselves rely on a Medicare tool called Nursing Home Compare, but expand that tool's search capability to include multiple criteria, such as ranking, location and religious affiliation. Information is updated every quarter.

As Pennsylvania nursing home neglect lawyers, we think this is a great tool for families making this important choice. Nursing home choice matters greatly, because the nursing home is your loved one's permanent, long-term home. A bad nursing home can lead to unhappiness, but also serious health problems from neglect or abuse, or even death.

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January 18, 2010

Study Finds Philadelphia Nursing Homes May Overuse Dangerous Antipsychotics

As Philadelphia nursing home neglect lawyers, we were very interested in a new study published in the Jan. 11 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Worcester found that in 2007, a disproportionately large proportion of nursing home patients received a drug from a class of drugs known as atypical antipsychotics. These drugs are indicated for mental illnesses like schizophrenia, but have several side effects serious enough that their use is now heavily restricted by the FDA. In particular, a 2005 safety labeling change warned that atypical antipsychotics may raise the risk of death in older people with dementia.

No drug is currently approved for controlling difficult behavior in patients with dementia, but atypical antipsychotics are widely used off-label for this purpose. This is despite the 2005 safety warning and the increased risk of stroke, diabetes, hyperglycemia and other side effects. Nonetheless, the study found that about a third of all nursing home patients in 2007 received the drugs. And one third of those patients had no diagnosis of mental illness or dementia. The scientists also found that patients were more likely to receive atypical antipsychotics after entering a nursing home that already had high prescribing rates. This may indicate a problem with "organizational culture," the authors wrote, and more studies should examine whether the practice has negative health consequences.

This is disturbing news, because it suggests that some nursing homes may be using dangerous, powerful drugs unnecessarily. The risks of atypical antipsychotics are so serious that another recent study found a 19% drop in prescriptions after the 2005 safety warning. Nursing homes who put their patients at risk of death or disability for no good medical reason are committing a form of nursing home abuse.

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January 15, 2010

Outbreak of Water-Borne Disease Near Pennsylvania Threatens Nursing Home Residents

Our Philadelphia nursing home negligence attorneys were interested to see a news story about an outbreak of a rare disease at a nursing home. United Press International reported Jan. 14 that one resident has died and another fell ill at the Golden Hill Nursing Home in Kingston, N.Y. The two residents had Legionnaires' disease, a bacterial infection affecting the victim's respiratory tract. (Unfortunately, it gets its name from an outbreak at an American Legion convention here in Philadelphia.) The disease often leads to pneumonia and is considered a particularly serious threat to older people, people with weakened immune systems and smokers -- all common characteristics for residents of nursing homes in Pennsylvania.

The woman who died from Legionnaires' disease was 88 and had a compromised immune system, the article said. Another woman, 91, was hospitalized but has now been released. Legionnaires' disease takes up to two weeks to incubate, the article said, so staff members are watching other residents for signs of illness. The bacteria that cause the disease are not passed from person to person like the flu, but enter the body when the victim inhales infected water vapor. Health inspectors are examining the water system at the county-run home and will disinfect it when they find the source.

This incident raises serious concerns for Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawyers like us. Legionnaires' disease is generally prevented by modern water treatment methods. An outbreak suggests that someone responsible for the water supply at this home -- the home itself, a government agency or an individual -- failed to follow established practices intended to prevent contamination and disease. If this is the case, residents who fall victim to Legionnaire's disease, and their families, would have a strong nursing home negligence claim.

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January 13, 2010

Philadelphia Nursing Home Neglect Can Trigger Serious Health Problems

Abuse at nursing homes in Pennsylvania makes headlines, but experts and many Philadelphia nursing home negligence attorneys believe neglect at nursing homes may be an even greater problem than abuse. Nursing home patients depend on their caregivers to provide the basics in life, such as adequate food and water. When they withhold these basics, whether it's intentional or out of negligence, patients suffer, physically and mentally, and may also develop serious health complications. And because these are the most dependent patients, they may have no way to call for help.

Like all people, nursing home patients need enough water and food that's appropriate for their health and activity needs. Shockingly, these are some of the most commonly neglected needs in nursing homes. In particular, older people are vulnerable to dehydration because of changes in the body caused by age. It may be difficult to get patients to drink and eat enough, due to health and memory problems. Caregivers may also neglect to feed patients who are messy or difficult, or give patients food that's wrong for their health and personal background. If caregivers don't make that effort, however, patients can end up dehydrated and malnourished, even while they're in an environment with supposed 24-hour care.

The health of nursing home patients can also be threatened by neglect related to cleanliness and basic health care. One of the most common forms of neglect in nursing homes in Pennsylvania is the failure to turn patients every two hours to prevent bedsores. Left untreated, bedsores can create large ulcers and invite infections. This problem can be compounded if the patient's sheets, clothes or body aren't getting the regular cleaning they need. And in some homes, caregivers may fail to provide the patient's own medications, out of carelessness or because of the expense.

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January 11, 2010

Identity Theft Threatens Nursing Home Patients in Philadelphia and Nationwide

Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world -- and unfortunately, nursing home residents are among the most vulnerable Americans. Identity theft means theft of the victim's credit card numbers, Social Security information and other identifying information in order to obtain credit under that person's name. After the thief racks up debts in the victim's name, he or she simply fails to pay and sticks the victim with the bills. Thanks to the Internet, this is easier than it was even 20 years ago.

The Federal Trade Commission reports that seniors are the most common victims of identity theft. As Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawyers, we believe nursing home residents are especially attractive targets. For one thing, people in nursing homes are often not managing their own financial affairs anymore, and the relatives in charge may not give the senior's finances full attention. Furthermore, unscrupulous caregivers have an opportunity to take credit cards and other information from the patient, and suggest that the victim is just old and forgetful if he or she complains. And seniors tend to have a lifetime of good credit and savings that make them tempting targets.

All of this means that it may be weeks or months before anyone notices that a nursing home patient is a victim of identity theft. That's unfortunate, because victims and their families must move quickly to reverse or minimize the damage to the patients' finances. These families should also closely scrutinize the nursing home where identity theft occurred. If the supervision at the home was poor enough to allow identity theft, what else could be going on there?

Even if the thief is arrested and convicted, patients may need to take separate legal action to recover the stolen money.

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January 8, 2010

Types of Nursing Home Abuse in Pennsylvania

When our Philadelphia nursing home abuse lawyers discuss negligence at nursing homes, most people think of physical abuse -- the use of non-accidental force. This type of abuse certainly does happen at nursing homes, and it's a terrible betrayal of patients' trust. But according to the American Psychological Association, hitting and other physical attacks are far from the only type of abuse older people may face. The APA defines elder abuse as the infliction of physical, psychological or emotional harm on an older adult. This includes acts we don't exactly consider violent, such as tying an older person down improperly because he or she is being difficult. More rarely, this can include sexual abuse.

Another form of nursing home abuse that may go unnoticed is emotional abuse. Caring for an older person can be tough, and caregivers may find themselves frustrated by irrational behavior by their patients. However, this is never an excuse for yelling, insults or other degrading behavior. Caregivers have been known to call their patients names; isolate them socially for no good reason; treat competent adults like children; and even control their behavior with threats and intimidation. Because the patient is partly or entirely dependent on the caregiver, he or she may be afraid to say anything.

Nursing home abuse is terrible enough when considered as an assault on an older person and his or her basic dignity. But in many cases, abuse can trigger serious health problems, or worsen problems the victim already has. In this way, nursing home abuse in Pennsylvania can actually contribute to or cause the victim's death, along with physical and emotional suffering and sometimes steep medical costs.

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