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Medication Errors in Nursing Homes

Tragically, thousands of elderly Americans suffer from medical malpractice and negligent staff members inside their nursing homes. These negligent acts could include falls, bedsores, or even medication errors in nursing homes. These medication errors could lead to a variety of life-threatening side effects and even death.

If your elderly loved one has suffered major health consequences from a nursing home medication error, you may have grounds to file an elder abuse lawsuit. Chicago nursing home abuse lawyers at Curcio Law Offices are passionate about fighting for justice for our vulnerable elderly population. We can help you and your loved one recover the financial compensation that you deserve. Call 312-321-1111 to schedule a free case review today.

medication errors in nursing homes

How Many Medication Errors Occur in Nursing Homes?

A 2007 study claims that approximately 800,000 preventable drug injuries occur in nursing facilities every year. The most common types of medication mistakes were skipping doses (32%), overdose (14%), and underdose (7%). Lastly, the study claims that the preventable adverse drug events mostly occurred during medication administration and that they were mostly caused by basic human error.

What is the Limit for Medication Errors in Nursing Homes?

Nursing homes have strict medication standards. The medication error rate in each nursing home must stay below 5%. A medication error rate above 5% indicates that nursing staff members are compromising patient safety. As a result, the nursing home may receive a health citation on its federal inspection.

Of course, mistakes are always going to happen because it’s only human nature. That’s why this 5% limit still leaves room for minor medication mistakes such as drug interactions, not following medication instructions, administering drugs a few minutes outside of the nursing home resident’s schedule, etc. As long as these errors don’t lead to serious adverse events – like injury, illness, or death – then staff members can get essentially away with it.

Medication Management in Nursing Homes: How it Works

Daily medication administration in nursing facilities is often called a “med pass.” During the med pass, licensed practical nurses will spend several hours administering medications to elderly patients from a med cart according to their doctor’s orders.

Not only do these registered nurses give all nursing home residents their medications, but they also have to:

  • Ensure that the medication order is correct by checking the patient’s medical history,
  • Organize all medications on the cart,
  • Ensure that all the necessary tools for medication administration are on the cart (syringes, cups, other medication aides),
  • Prepare the prescribed medication for consumption (cut it, grind it, shake it, stir it, etc.),
  • And document that the elderly patients took their medication.

This can be a tedious full time job that can lead to drug errors.

Most Common Medication Mistakes in Nursing Homes

The most common medication errors that occur in nursing homes are listed below.

  • Providing the wrong medication to a nursing home resident
  • Providing the wrong dose to a nursing home resident
  • Failing to ensure that nursing home patients actually take their medications
  • Injecting the nursing home patient in the wrong spot with the wrong drug or wrong dosage
  • Failing to follow medication instructions (for example: allowing a nursing home patient to swallow sublingual medications or allowing the patient to eat food with their medication when they’re not supposed to)
  • Giving out expired medications to elderly patients
  • Failing to prepare the medication correctly before giving it to the patient (for example, some medications need to be shaken, rolled, cut, mixed, etc.)
  • Failing to give a patient their medication at the same time every day
  • Following the incorrect med pass routine

Most Common Drugs Involved in Nursing Home Medication Mistakes

According to the 2007 study mentioned above, researchers found that the following 7 prescription drugs were involved in 28% of medication errors in nursing homes.

  • Lorazepam is one of many antipsychotic drugs provided to nursing home residents. More commonly though, it is used to treat seizures and epilepsy.
  • Oxycodone is a narcotic that doctors prescribe for moderate to severe pain relief.
  • Warfarin is a blood thinner that doctors often prescribe in order to prevent blood clots in elderly patients.
  • Furosemide is a diuretic that can treat edema, which is fluid retention.
  • Hydrocodone is an opioid that can treat pain and even excessive coughing.
  • Insulin is a hormone that can regulate a patient’s blood sugar. Diabetic patients often need to take insulin.
  • Fentanyl is another narcotic that doctors prescribe for severe pain relief. It has the potential to be incredibly addictive and can easily cause life-threatening side effects if a medication error occurs.

Why Do Medication Errors Happen in Nursing Homes?

The most common reason why nursing home residents endure some form of a medication mistake is because of nursing home understaffing and poor training. Unfortunately, these issues in assisted living facilities can lead to a wide range of poor health care and poor patient safety – not just medication administration errors.

It may come as no surprise to hear that being a nursing home staff member is physically and emotionally exhausting work. Not only that, but nursing facility staff often work incredibly long hours for very little money and appreciation. This results in exhaustion, which can result in more mistakes that compromise patient safety. Additionally, many staff members don’t want to stick around in a career field that leaves them with absolutely no energy, time, or money to live their own lives. Therefore, many skilled nursing facilities are understaffed and unable to provide high quality care to their residents.


Another reason why many nursing homes are understaffed is for the sake of maximizing profits. If you pay as few people as possible to do a job, then you have more money left to bring in. This is the mentality for many large chains that own nursing homes across the country.


As previously stated, medication administration in nursing homes is a long, tedious job. Without enough people to do this job every day, staff members may feel forced to rush through their med pass as quickly as possible without double checking their work. This can easily result in a nursing staff member providing the incorrect medication or the incorrect dosage.

Another reason why a nursing home patient’s medication may be incorrect is due to poor staff training. Lack of training could be another result of understaffing. If nursing homes desperately need caretakers, they may hire someone and train them as quickly as possible (or even skip training altogether) just to get more hands on deck. It’s crucial for a registered nurse to be properly trained before handing out and administering prescription drugs to elderly persons. After all, many of these residents are alive due to their doctor’s prescription.

nursing home medication errors

Health Consequences of Medication Errors in Nursing Homes

Nursing home medication errors can lead to a wide variety of short-term and long-term health consequences, depending on the type of medication error and the patient’s medical history. The wrong medication or dosage of a medication could lead to:

  • Heart attack
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Stroke
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Blood sugar or blood pressure changes
  • Respiratory distress
  • Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and panic
  • Dizziness, which can increase the risk of nursing home fall injuries
  • GI issues such as lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation
  • Death

Elderly people are more fragile and have more health issues compared to the younger population. Therefore, they have a far higher risk of suffering from both minor and severe health complications due to drug errors. That’s why it’s crucial for staff members to pay close attention when organizing, managing, and administrating residents’ medications. Not doing so could easily lead to an elder abuse lawsuit.

Improving Medication Safety in Nursing Homes

Enforcing an error reporting system in nursing homes is crucial for improving medication safety. Not only does an error reporting system allow nursing homes to keep track of the number of medication errors they make, but it can also help narrow down who caused the error. Was it a doctor, a nurse, or a medical equipment malfunction? Lastly, this reporting system can help improve overall nursing home medication standards by allowing authority figures to take corrective action.

Most error reporting systems require the following information:

  • How much patient harm did the medication mistake cause? Did the patient suffer minor side effects or life-threatening side effects?
  • What kind of side effects did the patient suffer from?
  • General patient information including name, age, sex, medication information, medical conditions, cognitive ability, etc.
  • Medication error information: what kind of medication error was it? What kind of medication was involved in the error? When did it happen? How many times did it happen? What caused the medication error? Who caused the medication error? At what stage did the medication error occur (was it the prescribing, dispensing, documenting, or administering phase?)
medication errors

Can I Sue for Medication Errors in Nursing Homes?

If a nursing home medication error caused your loved one to suffer major side effects or wrongful death, you certainly have grounds to file a nursing home abuse and neglect lawsuit. Even though mistakes do happen in medication management, they should not be tolerated, especially if the mistakes greatly compromise the health of our elderly population. Chicago elder abuse attorneys at Curcio Law Offices are passionate about pursuing justice for those who suffer at the hands of nursing home staff members. Our team can help you and your loved one pursue financial aid for medication error damages.

Can Medication Errors Be a Sign of Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse?

Yes, any adverse drug events can be a sign of nursing home neglect and abuse.

Unfortunately, understaffing and poor training can easily lead to nursing home abuse and neglect. There simply aren’t enough hands on deck to provide high quality care to elderly residents. That means there certainly aren’t enough staff members to ensure that nursing home patients receive the correct medication and dosage. Additionally, the stress and fatigue associated with long hours, little pay, little appreciation, and little training can lead to careless mistakes all over the place.

If you suspect that your elderly loved one’s injury, illness, or death stems from nursing home negligence, you need the legal team at Curcio Law Offices on your side. Our nursing home abuse lawyers have recovered thousands of dollars in settlements for our injured clients. We can do the same for you.

Damages for Medication Errors in Nursing Facilities

Victims of a medication mistake could recover financial compensation for the following types of damages:

  • Past and future medical bills
  • Past and future physical therapy bills
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Funeral and burial expenses if the medication error resulted in wrongful death
  • Punitive damages
medication errors in chicago nursing homes

Call Chicago Elder Abuse Attorneys at Curcio Law Offices Today

Our elderly population deserves the best possible health care from nursing homes in their final years of life. Tragically, not many patients receive high quality care due to nursing home negligence. What’s even worse is that many nursing home residents can’t speak up about the abuse or neglect they’re suffering from due to cognitive disabilities. This puts them in an incredibly vulnerable situation. That is why the Chicago elder abuse attorneys at Curcio Law Offices are so passionate about fighting for the justice of our elderly loved ones. For more information on how we can help you, call 312-321-1111 today. We offer a free legal case review to all new clients.