As people age, their healthcare needs shift, and often require additional help and support from healthcare professionals. Nursing homes are a popular choice for seniors who require 24/7 medical care, but the unfortunate reality is that medication errors can happen and have devastating consequences. Medication errors in nursing homes are not uncommon, and it’s important to understand how they happen and who is liable for the error.


Types of medication errors  in nursing homes


Medication errors in nursing homes can occur for several reasons. One of the primary causes is the sheer volume of prescriptions and medications that nursing home residents take daily. It’s common for a resident to have several prescriptions for different health conditions, and each prescription can have its own set of instructions, side effects, and warnings. This can be overwhelming for nursing home staff, and unfortunately, mistakes can happen.

Common medication errors that occur in nursing homes include:

  • Failure to give the correct type of medication
  • Failure to give the correct dosage
  • Failure to give medication at the correct time
  • Giving medication to the wrong person
  • Improper preparation of medication
  • Improper administration of medication
  • Administering expired medication
  • Using a medication similar — but not identical — to the one prescribed


How do medication errors happen in nursing homes? 


There are several different types of medication errors that can happen in nursing homes. These can include giving the wrong medication, the wrong dosage, or administering medication at the wrong time. A medication error can also occur if multiple drugs are given at once, causing a dangerous interaction. In some cases, medication errors can be fatal, such as when an overdose is given, or the wrong medication is prescribed.

This can lead to a host of errors if:

  • Staff members misread or misinterpret medication orders.
  • The medication orders themselves contained errors.
  • Staff members do not properly prepare the medications. This can include not following the instructions that come with the medications, such as ignoring instructions not to crush, split, or slice a certain medication.
  • Mixing up the medications in the process of organizing the cart.
  • The person administering the medications picks up the wrong medication from the cart.
  • Ignoring instructions that state the resident is to take the medication with or without food.
  • Ignoring potential drug or food interactions (e.g., drinking grapefruit juice and taking a cholesterol-lowering medication can cause a major interaction)
  • Failure to remove all air bubbles from a medication in a syringe 


How can a medication error harm a nursing home resident? 


As professionals working in healthcare, it is critical that we prioritize the safety of our patients above all else. A medication error, whether it be administering the wrong medication or incorrect dosage, can have severe consequences for nursing home residents. Not only can these errors lead to physical harm, such as adverse drug reactions or toxicity, but they can also cause emotional distress for the resident and their family.

When medication errors happen, they can cause harm in the following ways:

  • Misreading or misinterpreting medication orders in the resident’s chart can result in giving the resident the wrong kind of medication or the wrong dosage or giving the medication at the wrong time intervals (e.g., giving the medication every two hours instead of twice a day).
  • Not following medication preparation instructions can make the medication ineffective or could damage organs. (e.g., some medications take effect in certain organs or on a time-release schedule. These medications may have a coating that ensures they break down in the proper location in the body and at the proper pace. Crushing the medication could make the coating ineffective.)
  • Mixing up medications can lead to residents taking the wrong medication and not receiving the necessary one.
  • Air bubbles injected into a resident’s vein, artery, or IV bag can cause an air embolism. Air embolisms can cause heart attack, stroke, or respiratory failure. 


Who is liable for medication errors in nursing homes?


Nurses and other healthcare providers have a duty of care to residents in nursing homes. This duty includes administering care that is within their scope of practice, following proper protocols, and using reasonable care when administering medications. If a medication error occurs, the staff member who made the error may be held liable for the mistake. However, the nursing home itself can also be held liable. This is because the nursing home has a responsibility to ensure that proper systems are in place to prevent medication errors, including staff training and supervision.

In addition to nursing home staff being held responsible for medication errors, physicians and pharmacists can also be held liable for prescribing or dispensing the wrong medication. Healthcare providers have a duty to properly prescribe, dispense, and monitor medications for their patients. If a patient is harmed due to a medication error, the healthcare provider may be found liable for medical malpractice.


What should I do if my loved one was injured at a nursing home?


When it comes to proving a medical error personal injury case against a nursing home, it can be challenging. This is because the nursing home often controls much of the evidence needed to prove your claim. The proof you need is typically in the resident’s file and chart, nursing notes, medication records, and other nursing home records. Unfortunately, nursing homes may not hand over these records voluntarily, especially if your loved one has suffered significant harm due to a medication error. That’s why it’s crucial to seek the advice of a knowledgeable nursing home medication error lawyer if your loved one has been injured at a nursing home. If you’ve found yourself in this situation, we encourage you to contact Gallon, Takacs & Boissoneault at 419-843-6663 or fill out our online form for a free consultation with a nursing home abuse attorney.