Articles Posted in End of Life

hjobs-300x174It’s unlikely to surprise anyone who has visited friends or loved ones at a nursing home that such facilities too often are woefully staffed.

But why have federal regulators allowed themselves to be gulled about nursing home personnel levels, and how will not just these care-giving sites but also others, notably hospitals, deal with the growing need for and imbalances in health care staff, including a tilt toward “astonishingly high” numbers of costly administrative staff folks who don’t provide direct patient care?

Jordan Rau, a reporter for Kaiser Health News Service, deserves credit for digging into daily payroll records that Medicare only recently has gathered and published from 14,000 nursing homes nationwide. Rau found that:

intubation-300x181Grown-ups with the least bit of gray on them may want to step up their thinking on how they want to receive medical care under tough circumstances, especially if they consider a new, clear-eyed and hard-nosed study that dispels any myths about possible life-sustaining “miracles” of artificial breathing machines.

A research team with experts from Boston, San Francisco, and Dallas studied 35,000 cases in which adults older than 65 had undergone intubation and use of mechanical ventilators at 262 hospitals nationwide between 2008 and 2015.

They found that a third of patients intubated died in the hospital.

alzheimers-300x168As many as five million Americans already have Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related conditions, and their resulting loss of cognitive capacity and personal control rank among the top causes for health dread among those 55 and older, polls show.  So it’s worth noting that new studies are showing that seniors 65 and older get on average a dozen years of good cognitive health ── and that span is expanding.

Further, the onset of problems typically may occur in relatively mild fashion, with the most serious cognitive decline occurring in a short but late period of 18 months or so, Judith Graham reported for the independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service.

In her story for the KHNS feature “Navigating Aging,” Graham looks at an array of the latest and reliable research on seniors and cognitive decline, finding glimmers of optimism in what has been increasingly gloomy, evidence-based studies on how huge a challenge may be posed for our fast-graying nation by dementia, Alzheimer’s and their care.

antidepressant-300x225Even as the nation enters an even scarier phase in its battle against the raging opioid abuse epidemic, new and sterner warnings are flying about antidepressants. The costs of these powerful drugs add up, as does the toll of depression and its care. Users say antidepressants are a nightmare to get off of. And medical experts cast growing doubt about whether their benefits outweigh their risks.

The New York Times deserves credit for detailing the worrisome plight of an estimated 15.5 million Americans who have been taking antidepressants — sold as brand drugs like Zoloft, Effexor, Paxil, Prozac, and Cymbalta — for at least five years. The rate of the psychiatric medications’ use “has almost doubled since 2010, and more than tripled since 2000,” the newspaper reported, adding that “nearly 25 million adults … have been on antidepressants for at least two years, a 60 percent increase since 2010.”

Users who try to wean themselves from the drugs find themselves, fast, in nasty situations with “dizziness, nausea, headache and paresthesia — electric-shock sensations in the brain that many people call brain zaps,” patients told the New York Times.

frail-300x150Although patient advocates long have pressed Big Medicine to eliminate unnecessary care — waste in the health care system that some experts estimate adds as much as $765 billion annually in needless costs — it may be past due for a public condemnation of a notably extreme example of this practice: The all too frequent, unhelpful surgeries for the old, many of whom are at the end of life.

Liz Szabo of the independent, nonprofit Kaiser Health News Service, and National Public Radio deserve credit for their report, detailing how 1 in 3 Medicare patients undergoes a serious procedure, “even though the evidence shows that many are more likely to be harmed than to benefit from it.”

As the story explains:

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.

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