A licensed practical nurse working at Life Care Center of Orange Park nursing home was arrested this week for grand theft of a controlled substance. The arrest came following an investigation into missing prescription painkillers. Over one hundred hydrocodone and oxycodone pills were reported missing.
Life Care Centers operates hundreds of nursing homes in twenty-eight states. In the Jacksonville area, it operates three nursing homes: Life Care Center of Jacksonville; Life Care Center at Wells Crossing (located in Orange Park); and Life Care Center of Orange Park. These three nursing homes have received high rankings from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, respectively earning five stars, three stars and five stars on CMS’ one to five star rating system. While certainly not an infallible measure of quality, our lawyers have noticed a strong correlation between the ranking system and the level of care provided.
Theft of prescription painkillers, or “drug diversion” as it is commonly called, at nursing homes is a nationwide problem. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 regulates narcotic pain medication. Nursing homes must maintain a Controlled Substances Log pursuant to 21 U.S.C. 827(a). A Controlled Substances Log is used to track every dose of pain medication by recording the date and time the pill was obtained by a nurse, the name of the resident receiving the medication, the name of the nurse receiving the medication, and the name of the subscriber. Pain medication must be kept in a separately locked cabinet in a secure area of the nursing home.
This level of documentation does not however, ensure that the nurse actually gives the pain medication to the resident. Many residents of nursing homes suffer from a degree of confusion or dementia. It is a simple enough task for a nurse to provide the resident an over the counter pain reliever while pocketing the actual narcotic. Of course, such a practice is a clear violation of the nursing standard of care and a violation of the nursing home resident’s rights.
The effect on the defrauded nursing home resident is more than just having to temporarily endure needless pain. The sudden cessation of regularly taken pain medication can cause serious withdrawal symptoms. Further, unaddressed chronic pain causes a host of other problems including: depression; interruption of sleep; impaired cognitive function; compromised cardiovascular health; and decreased quality of life.
If you are concerned that a loved one is not receiving his or her pain medication, there are steps you can take. First, we recommend a meeting with the resident’s doctor, the nursing home’s director of nursing and the resident’s unit manager to discuss the issue. Second, a urinalysis can be performed to determine the amount of pain medication the person has metabolized. Lastly, we always recommend that anyone concerned about nursing home neglect or abuse contact Florida’s Department of Children and Families abuse hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE. Continue reading