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An Alabama Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Explains

Many nursing homes prescribe dangerous drugs to patients based on phony diagnoses, especially falsely diagnosing someone with schizophrenia, according to a recent New York Times investigation of nursing home abuse involving fake diagnoses of nursing home residents.

“It is unacceptable for a facility to inappropriately classify a resident’s diagnosis to improve their performance measures,” said Catherine Howden, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which oversees nursing homes. “We will continue to identify facilities which do so and hold them accountable.”

How Bad Is The Fake Diagnosis Problem?

The New York Times found that the most common fake diagnosis involving nursing home residents involved diagnosing them with schizophrenia. Since 2012, the number of nursing home residents diagnosed with schizophrenia has increased by 70 percent.

As a result, one in nine nursing home residents has received a schizophrenia diagnosis. In contrast, the disorder, which has strong genetic roots, only affects roughly one in 150 people in the general population.

“People don’t just wake up with schizophrenia when they are elderly,” said Dr. Michael Wasserman, a geriatrician and former nursing home executive who was interviewed by The New York Times. Wasserman added the schizophrenia diagnosis is “used to skirt the rules.”

Why Do Nursing Homes Falsely Diagnose Residents?

Many nursing homes falsely diagnose residents as having schizophrenia so the nursing home can prescribe powerful drugs designed to sedate residents. Nursing homes often do this because they’re understaffed and don’t have enough personnel to carefully monitor residents, especially if residents have dementia, require extra attention, or are considered unruly or uncooperative.

By diagnosing residents with schizophrenia, nursing homes can prescribe powerful antipsychotic drugs, often referred to as “chemical straitjackets” due to their powerful side effects. Such antipsychotic drugs also have serious health risks, including doubling the odds of dying due to heart problems, falling, infections, and other serious health issues.

Because these antipsychotic drugs are so powerful, nursing homes must tell the government how many residents are taking them. This information is available to the public in most cases, except if nursing home residents are diagnosed with schizophrenia or two other medical conditions. As a result, families have no way of knowing which nursing homes actually prescribe these drugs in the event someone is falsely diagnosed.

According to records available to the public, less than 15 percent of nursing home residents take antipsychotic medications. But that figure does not include patients with a schizophrenia diagnosis. According to the New York Times investigation, the real number is more than 21 percent of nursing home residents — about 225,000 people — are actually taking powerful antipsychotic medications.

What Should I Do If I Suspect A Fake Nursing Home Diagnosis?

If you believe a loved one has been falsely diagnosed with schizophrenia or another medical condition by a nursing home, there are several steps you can – and should – take right away. The following suggested steps are for nursing homes in Alabama:

  • Have an independent medical professional not associated with the nursing home examine your loved one right away. The independent doctor can confirm whether the nursing home’s diagnosis of your loved one is accurate or false.
  • Ask the nursing home for copies of all medical records related to your loved one, including before and after they were diagnosed with schizophrenia or another medical condition.
  • If you believe the nursing home falsely diagnosed your loved one with schizophrenia or another medical condition, tell the nursing home about your concerns. You can tell them verbally or in writing. Doing so in writing is often the best way to report such abuse. That way, you have a written record of your complaint.
  • Contact Alabama’s Long-Term Care Ombudsmen, the official state agency that investigates nursing home abuse and neglect allegations statewide.
  • Contact an Alabama nursing home abuse lawyer to go over your legal rights and options.

The sooner you have an attorney investigating your complaint, the better. At Braswell Murphy, LLC in Mobile, we can help you every step of the way. We know the state and federal laws that apply to nursing homes. We know how to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect and hold negligent nursing facilities accountable for their actions.

Discover what we can do for you and your loved one. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation with an experienced Alabama nursing home abuse attorney.