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I-Team Investigates Chemical Restraint Of Elderly

News - San Diego
July 23, 2010

SAN DIEGO -- A woman told the 10News I-Team her father was improperly drugged in order to keep him restrained at a local care facility.

"He was a very hard working dentist," said Marian Hollingsworth.

Hollingsworth's father, Dr. Keith Blair, was an accomplished dentist and military veteran. He died last year at the age of 86, but Hollingsworth said her father's death was sped up by the anti-psychotic drugs he was given without consent.

"He should've been allowed to go on his own time," she told the I-Team.

The drugs her father was given included Risperdal and Haldol, anti-psychotics that include a warning that says the drugs are "associated with an increased risk of mortality in elderly patients."

"It's a way of controlling them. It keeps him in bed," said Hollingsworth.

Hollingsworth said her father had mild dementia. His health rapidly declined after he went to two local hospitals for leg and back pain, and then was transferred to Arbor Hills Nursing Center in La Mesa.

"He was completely out of it. I shook him on the bed, I hollered his name. I asked the nurse what was going on. I couldn't wake him up. She said, 'Oh, he was sleepy last night.'"

After her father's death, his medical files revealed staff at both the hospitals and the nursing home gave him Risperdal and Haldol without consent. Hollingsworth filed a complaint with the California Department of Health.

"You shouldn't give these medications to people if you know it's going to cause death," said Hollingsworth.

Dr. David Graham, a Food and Drug Administration expert, testified before Congress about the practice of drugging the elderly to control them.

"You've probably got 15,000 elderly people in nursing homes dying each year from the off-label use of anti-psychotic medications," Graham said.

Experts said the practice is called chemical restraint.

"It's a public health issue and I believe it's a public health issue because the companies are laughing all the way to the bank," added Graham.

Longtime elder advocate Carole Herman is angered by the use of chemical restraints.

"We are actually paying for elderly abuse in this country," Herman said.

Herman told the I-Team taxpayers foot the bill for anti-psychotic drugs given to elderly people just to keep them quiet.

"You don't have to feed them, you don't have to take them to the bathroom," said Herman.

She blames what she calls the profit-driven nursing home industry and weak state regulations.

"Maybe if there was more enforcement, maybe they would clean up their act," said Herman.

Since 2006, the California Department of Public Health has issued 31 deficiencies, or written warnings, for the use of chemical restraint.

Most recently, in the Kern Valley Hospital District a nursing home in Bakersfield got more than a warning. The home saw former and current employees indicted on criminal charges for doping up patients to keep them in bed.

Arbor Hills Nursing Center said their staff does not drug seniors. When asked about the case involving Blair, their legal staff issued the following statement that said, in part: "Arbor Hills Nursing Center met all applicable standards of care and did not in any way compromise his condition or cause him any harm."

The two hospitals where Blair first stayed and Arbor Hills all received deficiencies relating to how they administered anti-psychotic drugs, the I-Team learned.

"No one goes to jail, no one has anything on their records …," said Hollingsworth.

Hollingsworth said the best advice she can give is for people to educate themselves about what assisted care facilities can and cannot do, and then serve as strong advocates for their elderly relatives.