fatal pain medication error highlights dangers facing assisted living patients

There is no denying that the majority of us automatically associate medical malpractice with one of the following settings: hospitals, clinics, outpatient surgery facilities or emergency rooms. However, what about assisted living facilities? After all, these centers not only provide long-term care for elderly residents, they also provide short-term care for individuals who have undergone surgical procedures and need assistance with their recovery. Furthermore, they are even staffed by physicians, nurses and nursing aides.

Accordingly, our loved ones who enter these facilities are entitled to the same quality care, and must be protected against the harmful and potentially fatal consequences resulting from otherwise preventable medical errors.

Sadly, this isn’t always what happens.

Consider a recent case that made national headlines, when a nursing aide accidentally administered a lethal dose of pain medication to a patient in an assisted living facility.

According to reports, the physician overseeing the care of an older resident of an assisted living facility located on the West Coast prescribed her 0.5 milliliters of morphine to combat daily pain. However, the nurse in charge of transcribing the physician’s order made what turned out to be a fatal mistake, omitting both the zero and the decimal point.

Tragically, a nursing aide later administered a lethal dose of 5 milliliters to the patient before the transcription mistake could be discovered. (Here, the medical examiner listed the cause of death as “acute opiate (morphine) intoxication.”)

The family of the victim was shocked to learn later that the nursing aide administering the morphine was unlicensed and that the assisted living facility had previously been cited twice for medication errors with absolutely no punishment from the state.

While the state did eventually take action against the facility — issuing an order prohibiting new admissions for six weeks — this was of little consequence to the victim’s family, who were stunned by the sheer negligence.

“I’m angry, I’m resentful, I don’t have a lot of understanding in the sense that there are a lot of broken systems there,” said the victim’s daughter.

This story highlights just how important it is to understand that medical malpractice is not confined to any one setting or any one action. People suffering from all types of ailments receiving treatment in all kinds of facilities can be victimized. In fact, this is precisely why it’s so crucial to consider consulting with an experienced attorney if you or a family member has been harmed by a medical professional.

Source: KIRO 7, “Morphine dosage error kills elderly patient,” Chris Halsne, Nov. 19, 2012

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