Judge Makes Important Ruling That Will Affect Nursing Home Patients and their Families
An Alameda County judge has issued an order prohibiting state health officials from allowing doctors at nursing homes to administer psychiatric drugs or make end-of-life decisions for patients whom doctors consider mentally incompetent. According to a news report in the San Francisco Chronicle, Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo issued the order Jan. 27 after ruling that a 1992 state law, which authorized nursing home doctors to make those decisions on their own, violates patients’ constitutional rights. The California Association of Health Facilities, which represents the state’s nursing homes, said it will appeal this decision.
The article states that as many as 10,000 nursing home patients in California have been declared “incompetent” with no family members or others designated to represent them. These individuals could be affected by this ruling, which basically ensures that healthcare decisions will be made by residents themselves unless a court is convinced that they cannot. This ruling is the first of its kind in the United States and could serve as a model for other states with similar laws.
Making Life-or-Death Determinations
A lawsuit filed in 2013 cited the case of a Placer County man who was judged incompetent by his doctor. He was fed through a tube. When nursing home staff members asked if he wanted to live or die and he did not answer, they disconnected the tube, revoked an order for life-sustaining care and sent him to hospice care where he died two months later. The law has left the door open for nursing home neglect and abuse, allowing nursing home doctors and even staff members to make crucial end-of-life decisions for the patients without properly consulting them or their families.
The same applies to the use of antipsychotic medication. The use of these types of drugs is rampant nationwide, but it is particularly high in California. Many nursing homes used antipsychotic drugs to chemically restrain their patients. This is often the case in nursing homes that are deliberately understaffed to keep profits high.
Protecting Patients’ Rights
As California nursing home lawyers who represent the right of nursing home patients and their families, we are relieved to hear that this judge has put the best interests of patients before nursing homes. There is no question that nursing home administrators may face a few challenges due to this court ruling, but we believe that it is more important to protect the rights of vulnerable, elderly patients who deserve to spend their last days with dignity and quality.