Articles Posted in End of Life

srabuse-300x150Imagine if Uncle Sam permitted everyone who lives in Newport News, Va., or maybe Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to be chemically restrained, drugged with powerful medications so they fell, day and night, into a speechless stupor. Now, further envision the furor if these 180,000 souls and their families each were forced to pay as much as $100,000 annually  to be reduced to a near vegetative state.

This real situation with over-medicated Americans, in this case seniors in nursing homes, is just one more cruelty happening against the aged. It’s also hard to see federal officials issuing faint praise on how regulations slowly — too painfully so — are reducing abuse of potent anti-psychotics in the nation’s care for the old, especially those with dementia.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, aka CMS, has issued new data on its seven-year campaign to slash elder care facilities administering antipsychotics sold under brand names like Abilify, Risperdal, and Zyprexa. Questions also have been raised about a newer drug, the little red pill branded as Nudexta.

alive-300x115Nick Tullier once was a handsome, strapping sheriff’s deputy in Baton Rouge, La. Then, in a blink, he and five others were gunned down by a former Marine and black separatist who had come from Missouri to Louisiana to kill cops. Tullier was one of three deputies who survived the attack.

What happened next to him is part of a series worth reading in the Houston Chronicle, a year-long dig the newspaper has dubbed “Alive Inside.” The work asks whether doctors and hospitals across the country have stayed current with medical advances that maybe, just might, possibly offer greater glimmers of hope to patients like Tullier who suffer traumatic brain injuries.

Such individuals, the Chronicle carefully says, may too quickly be deemed too injured to survive. Doctors, in sincere acts of perceived compassion, may be too fast to urge family and loved ones to withhold or halt medical services for the brain-injured, partly out of the pragmatic reality that their recovery prospects remain poor.

probe-300x195With more than 10,000 boomers retiring each day and more seniors ending up at some point in their lives in nursing homes, regulators need to step up their oversight of elder care facilities. But there’s disturbing information they’re failing at this crucial task, allowing terrible abuses of older Americans who also may be evicted unfairly from facilities and who may be insufficiently protected when natural calamities occur.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune deserves credit for its multipart investigation of abuses in nursing homes. As the news organization has reported of its findings:

Every year, hundreds of residents at senior care centers around the state are assaulted, raped or robbed in crimes that leave lasting trauma and pain for the victims and their families. Yet the vast majority of these crimes are never resolved, and the perpetrators never punished, because state regulators lack the staff and expertise to investigate them. And thousands of complaints are simply ignored. … Last year alone, the Minnesota Department of Health received 25,226 allegations of neglect, physical abuse, unexplained serious injuries, and thefts in state-licensed homes for the elderly. Ninety-seven percent were never investigated. That includes 2,025 allegations of physical or emotional abuse by staff, 4,100 reports of altercations between residents and 300 reported drug thefts. When the Health Department did investigate, records show that it often neglected key steps in a criminal probe. In dozens of those cases, for instance, no one interviewed the victims, and no one called the police. Health Department documents contain dire tales of residents being choked, punched, smothered with pillows, fondled and forcibly restrained.

reuters-300x153Although countless doctors and nurses put in untold blood, sweat, and tears to provide quality care to their patients, health care profiteers can undo these good works in an instant with shameful plundering. Here is a roundup from multiple fronts.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service deserves credit for its painful reporting on the rising problems in the once much-admired area of hospice care.

Reporters JoNel Aleccia and Melissa Bailey have written, in a story carried by Time Magazine, that they “analyzed 20,000 government inspection records, revealing that missed [hospice worker] visits and neglect are common for patients dying at home. Families or caregivers have filed over 3,200 complaints with state officials in the past five years. Those complaints led government inspectors to find problems in 759 hospices, with more than half cited for missing visits or other services they had promised to provide at the end of life.”

nursinghome-300x200With more Americans than previously thought needing care in the nation’s nursing homes, will more of us start to pay greater attention to the unacceptable and under-reported elder abuse occurring there? And with calamities like Hurricane Harvey fresh in mind, will more sons and daughters, nephews and nieces, and other friends and loved ones take a bit of time now to think how safe their elder relatives’ care facilities might be and where they might go in catastrophic circumstance?

Although most previous research has indicated that just 35 percent of Americans will use a nursing home in later life, new study by the independent, nonpartisan RAND Corporation indicates that figure may be far too low. More than half (56 percent) of those now aged 57 to 61 will spend at least a night and likely much more time in nursing home care, RAND researchers found.

If seniors need the care, they stay on average 272 nights in nursing homes, though 10 percent of the population the researchers studied spent more than 1,000 nights in such facilities.

syphillis-150x150The myriad problems tied to the nation’s opioid drug abuse epidemic seem only to worsen and grow more complex by the day. They are, recent news reports say:

Nursing-home-holding-hands-300x200Federal regulators need to ramp up their oversight of nursing homes, big time, with recent news reports and studies finding persistent abuses of elderly patients, including during crackdowns on problem operators, and facilities failing to care for vulnerable charges so they don’t lapse into emergency or hospital care.

Jordan Rau and the independent Kaiser Health News Service deserve kudos for digging into Uncle Sam’s “special focus status,” in which the nation’s “most dangerous” nursing homes get an ultimatum to correct major and continuing harms to patients or they may lose crucial Medicaid and Medicare funds from the federal government.

Rau found that more than half of the 528 homes deemed since 2014 to require the supposedly stringent “special focus” from regulators and that still are operating have since harmed patients or put them in jeopardy in the last three years.

clockYour time is precious, and when you are a patient, you may feel it’s more so, especially if you’re ill or even in the end stage of your life.

So why do health care providers keep us waiting, or worse, why must doctors and hospitals act downright oblivious to how valuable our time might be as opposed to theirs—and what might be done about it?

Take a look at a thoughtful piece on how one health system has tried to keep true to the idea that patients matter above everything else and the delivery of care needs to focus on them:

end-of-life-800-300x198Many hospitals and doctors rightly have campaigned to get more patients to provide information in advance about their end-of-life care choices, but doesn’t that mean that the choices when made should be respected? And if they’re not, what role do the courts have?

Paula Span, a New York Times columnist who writes on aging issues, reports that a growing number of patients and families have sued hospitals, doctors, and nurses for disregarding or overriding advance directives. There are various kinds of these legal documents. But they often become part of patients’ medical records, directing caregivers, for example, that an individual does not want extreme measures taken to resuscitate them or to sustain their lives.

This can go against deep traditions in medicine, especially for caregivers accustomed to crisis responses in difficult, exigent circumstances. They think of themselves as life changers and life savers. At the same time, patients have insisted that their rights and choices demand respect. Many physicians and hospitals have recognized and encouraged this, as has the U.S. health care system more generally, for example, via Medicare.

NL_DifferenceThere’s  more encouraging news about dementia rates, which a new study has found fell 24 percent between 2000 and 2012, decreasing among Americans 65 and older from 11.6 percent to 8.8 percent. The experts aren’t sure why the rates declined. But it means that 1.5 million or so seniors will be spared the severe cognitive declines that would have been expected from earlier rates of the tragic disease.

Researchers, who published their latest findings in the peer reviewed and respected Journal of the American Medical Association, said that greater educational attainment and improved heart health may have led to the decreases in the prevalence of the condition associated with loss of memory or other mental abilities so severe it interferes with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is most commonly linked to dementia. Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia and occurs after a stroke.

The new study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and on Aging (NIH and NIA), produced continuing surprises as experts have projected an explosion in cases among Americans, who are increasingly gray, obese, and diabetic—factors that significantly increase dementia risks.

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