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AARP helps family pursue justice against nursing home

By Jessica Surber, Attorney
English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley, LLP

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Our firm routinely handles nursing home abuse, neglect and wrongful death cases. We see families every day who have trusted their loved ones to assisted living facilities or nursing homes but have found that the care was not up to basic standards.

In many cases, those living in the facilities are unable to fight for their own rights for care. They need an advocate. Family members fight for them – but find that some nursing homes are understaffed, too crowded or have other issues. Sometimes, getting an attorney involved is the only way to fight back against abusive practices.

Psychotropic drugs can harm elderly patients

We also have heard of a troubling trend: using psychotropic drugs to treat patients who may be combative or disruptive. These drugs can harm or even kill patients who are suffering from dementia.

In a recent case in which the AARP intervened, a family sued a nursing home due to the death of their father. Bobby Glenn Tweed had been an active man until the age of 78, when he developed dementia. They placed him in a care facility, but only 8 months later, he died. The family believes the antipsychotic medications he was given were the cause of his death. The case was settled.

The AARP notes that using psychotropic drugs on elderly patients to control behavior is becoming more common, and it is a very dangerous practice. The root of this problem goes back to 2009, or possibly earlier. Two different drug companies, Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson, were both punished by the U.S. Justice Department for falsely marketing antipsychotic drugs to nursing homes to help handle patients who are viewed as difficult to manage.

Johnson & Johnson paid $2.2 billion in fines and punishment for falsely marketing its drugs, including Risperdal, and for paying kickbacks to pharmacists and physicians who recommended it. Eli Lilly paid $1.4 billion for marketing its drug Zyprexa for the treatment of “dementia, Alzheimer’s dementia, psychosis associated with Alzheimer’s disease, or the cognitive deficits associated with dementia,” the U.S. Department of Justice press release said. None of those uses was approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

While these drugs can be effective antipsychotics, using them on the elderly can be deadly, as cases have shown.

How you can help your loved one in a nursing home

Be sure you visit your loved one often. Note their disposition, talk to staff and meet with their physicians as often as you can. If you see something that you think isn’t right, speak up. Understand that many staff members work long hours and have lots of patients, and may not have noticed something you’ve seen.

Review the medications they’re taking. If you don’t know what something is, ask to speak with the prescribing physician, whether that’s your loved one’s usual doctor or someone you don’t know. Ask what the medication is and what it is used for, and if it is necessary. Keep notes on what medications they’re being given and when.

If you can’t get answers, you may find it necessary to contact an attorney to advocate on behalf of your loved one and your family.

Our firm will be happy to talk to you if you’d like assistance in dealing with a nursing home or care facility. Contact me, Jessica Surber, at or (270) 781-6500. We can review your case and discuss options with you.