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Medication Errors

Medication Errors in the Nursing Home

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Older adults may have long-term or chronic illnesses that require medication to treat. Seniors that live in nursing homes may rely on staff members to properly provide these medications. Unfortunately, serious or chronic medication errors in nursing homes may be the result of nursing home neglect or even abuse, and can seriously harm residents.

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Administering Medications in the Nursing Home

Nursing home residents and their families expect that long-term care facilities will meet seniors’ needs. This includes making sure that residents get the medications they need.

A medication error in a nursing home refers to any mistakes that are made while making or administering the residents’ medications. While not every medication error may be serious, some can have deadly consequences for residents and may be a sign that nursing home neglect is happening.

Common types of medication errors include:

  • Giving medications not prescribed to the resident
  • Giving the wrong dose (too much/too little)
  • Giving the wrong medication

Residents who are improperly medicated can suffer from mental and/or physical health problems. Because of this, it is key for residents and their loved ones to make sure that the right medications are given at the right times.

If you or a loved one suffered serious injuries or died due to medication errors in nursing homes, get a free case review. Compensation may be available.

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Get a free legal case review if you or a loved one has suffered abuse or neglect.

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Medication Standards in Nursing Homes

All nursing homes are expected to provide high-quality care to the residents, including properly giving medications when needed.

Nursing homes should have medication safety standards outlined in the procedures used to run the facility and train staff.

Using these standards and rules, nursing homes should:

  • Avoid prescribing new medications without telling a resident’s family
  • Follow all error reporting guidelines as noted
  • Keep track of each patient’s medications
  • Properly give medications to residents
  • Put patient safety first and get help if side effects appear
  • Understand the patient’s medical history

While it is not possible to fully prevent medication mistakes, these standards mean that nursing homes must do everything they can to keep residents healthy and safe.

Sadly, not all nursing homes will make the effort to provide the best care possible.

Did You Know

According to a recent report from the medical journal Health Affairs, there is a higher prevalence of medication errors in nursing homes with one-star ratings than five-star facilities.

That said, nursing facilities that fail to prevent serious medication errors may face legal consequences. If you or a loved one suffered a medication error in a nursing home that caused serious injury or death, compensation may be available. Learn more with a free case review.

The Administration of Medication in the Nursing Home

In most nursing facilities, the medication is given when the nursing staff member completes what is known as a “med pass”. This is the term used when describing the process of dispensing medication to nursing facility residents according to order.

The nurse usually uses a cart when doing a med pass, giving out medication from resident to resident according to the doctors’ orders.

Med passes are carried out by licensed nurses. Some states, on the other hand, will allow unlicensed staff members to provide medication as long as a nurse is supervising. Med passes usually take 4-5 hours to complete.

In addition to giving the medication, it can take several more hours to organize the medications and document the administration of the medications.

Examples of Nursing Home Medication Errors

Examples of medication errors in nursing homes include:

  • Failing to properly prepare medications
  • Failing to see if IVs are working properly
  • Giving medications without reviewing the side effects
  • Giving a patient new medications without telling family members
  • Giving the wrong dosage
  • Having residents swallow medications meant to dissolve under the tongue (sublingual medications)
  • Mixing up a patient’s medications
  • Not following feeding tube (enteral) nutrition formulas
  • Not giving medications on time
  • Not properly providing antibiotics for bedsores
  • Not monitoring residents to make sure they take medications correctly
  • Not providing liquids or food with medications
  • Slicing or cutting a pill that shouldn’t be split

Medication errors can put a resident at risk of serious complications. For example, residents who are overmedicated might experience severe side effects. If the side effects include dizziness, residents could fall more frequently and suffer from bruises, broken bones, head trauma, or even death.

Unfortunately, several common medications can lead to very dangerous situations, especially when incorrectly administered. For example, antipsychotic drugs used to treat dementia can put older adults at risk of stroke and death. Making an error with these medications can be extremely harmful to the resident.

Get a free case review if you or a loved one may have been harmed by any of these medication errors or others. You may be able to pursue financial aid for medical treatments and other costs.

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Get a free legal case review if you or a loved one has suffered abuse or neglect.

Get a Free Case Reviewor call (855) 264-6310

Nursing Home Medication Malpractice

Serious or deadly medication errors in nursing homes may be the result of medical malpractice from on-staff caregivers.

Nursing home medical malpractice lawsuits can be filed in some cases, like with cases involving:

  • Diversions of medication: When the staff member diverts a medication, it is usually a matter of stealing the medication for their own personal use. The medication may also be taken to sell to other people.
  • Ignoring an order: Some employees will ignore the administration instructions and change the order, add medications that are not ordered, or discontinue a medication.
  • Medication borrowing: When the staff is busy during the med pass, there may be medications missing. Instead of getting the right medication, the person doing the med pass may borrow a medication from one resident to another. If this is not documented, mistakes can be made.
  • Poor medication management: This happens when the nursing facility fails to have the right medication on hand so that the nursing home resident will not have the medication available.

Medication errors may be considered malpractice as well as nursing home abuse. Staff may give residents medications without their consent or telling loved ones, which can have dangerous outcomes.

Giving improper medications can worsen the medical conditions a resident already has or cause new side effects to appear. In a recent case, a nursing home resident fell into a medically induced coma for three days after taking medication meant for her roommate.

Nursing home staff had mixed up the roommates’ medications, and an investigator later proved that nursing home neglect occurred.

Medication Errors & Negligence

Because many nursing homes are understaffed, staff members could be overworked and tired, making medication errors more likely. The staff member may be distracted during the med pass and may make a mistake. The staff member doing the med pass should not feel as though they are being rushed, as this can lead to medication errors.

A study by the Medication Error Quality Initiative looked at the most common medication errors.

Common medication errors include:

  • Documenting the giving of the medication incorrectly
  • Failing to monitor the resident after giving the medication
  • Following the wrong med pass routine
  • Giving expired medications
  • Giving too little or skipping a dose of medication
  • Giving too much medication
  • Giving the medication at the wrong time or at the wrong rate
  • Giving the wrong form of the medication, the wrong strength, or the wrong medication altogether
  • Having a lab error
  • Using an incorrect med administration technique

Errors that stem from nursing home neglect can physically and emotionally devastate a resident and their family members.

Get a free case review if you or a loved one was harmed from a medication error in a nursing home. Financial compensation may be available.

Reporting Medication Errors in Nursing Homes

Nursing home medication errors can be dangerous and even life-threatening. It’s important to report medication errors in nursing homes as soon as possible.

You can report medications errors in nursing homes to:

  • 911: Call 911 if your loved one is suffering from a life-threatening medical emergency
  • A resident’s doctor or medical team: Make sure a resident’s primary care provider is informed if medication errors may have occurred
  • Nursing home ombudsmen: Ombudsmen are advocates for nursing home residents and their families who are trained to resolve concerns about care quality
  • Nursing home abuse law firms: Skilled attorneys can help you and your family pursue compensation if medication errors caused serious injuries or death

Reporting a medication error is key for several reasons. First, your loved one can get medical attention. It may also allow you to hold the nursing facility accountable for the harm done. Finally, you can pursue financial aid by reporting medication errors to legal counsel.

Legal Help for Nursing Home Medication Errors

Medication errors in nursing homes can cause older people you love to suffer from serious injuries or long-term side effects. They can even lead to wrongful death in some cases.

Nobody should have to suffer from poor treatment during their most vulnerable years. If your loved one was the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, we can help.

Filing a nursing home abuse lawsuit can help you take justice against those responsible for harming your loved one and help ensure others won’t have to suffer.

The money you receive from a nursing home abuse lawsuit can be used to cover medical expenses, funeral costs, and other associated bills. Lawsuits are being filed for nursing home medication errors and other forms of abuse every day.

Get a free case review today to see if you or your loved one may be entitled to compensation.

Nursing Home Medication Error FAQs

What are the most common medication errors in nursing homes?

Common medication errors typically relate to how medicines are prescribed, given, and distributed, according to the medical journal BMC nursing.

Check in with nursing home residents you love regularly to reduce the risks of medication errors. Regular visits can allow you to catch problems before they are severe.

How can nursing homes prevent medication errors?

Nursing homes can prevent errors by making sure all staff members are properly trained to give medications to residents. Staff should also closely follow all medication administration guidelines.

Failure to do any of these could increase the chances that an older adult will suffer from a medication error.

What can I do if a loved one has suffered a medication error in a nursing home?

If an older adult you love has suffered from a medication error, make sure they quickly get medical attention. Medication errors in nursing homes can quickly turn deadly if left unchecked. Always call 911 in the event of an emergency.

You might also want to connect with elder abuse advocates, such as an ombudsman or a nursing home lawyer. These advocates can connect you with resources needed to start healing.

You can work with elder abuse attorneys right now — start the process with a free case review.

Nursing Home Abuse Support Team
Julie Rivers HeadshotReviewed by:Julie Rivers, MBA

Eldercare Advocate & Expert

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Julie Rivers is an eldercare advocate with over 15 years of dedicated service to victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. Her journey in this field became deeply personal when she assumed the role of an unpaid caregiver during her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

The Nursing Home Abuse Center (NHAC) was founded to bring justice to those affected by nursing home and elder abuse. Our mission is to educate and empower victims of abuse and their families to take a stand against this unlawful mistreatment. We work to return dignity back to those who have been broken down by nursing home abuse and neglect.

  1. Bengtsson, M., & Ekedahl, A. (2021, April 29). Errors linked to medication management in nursing homes: An interview study. Retrieved November 01, 2021, from
  2. Brauner, D., JM, C., LL, L., KG, S., WB, R., S, S., . . . A, W. (2018, November 01). Does nursing home compare reflect patient safety in nursing homes?: Health Affairs Journal. Retrieved November 01, 2021, from
  3. Groot Kormelinck, C., Van Teunenbroek, C., Kollen, B., Reitsma, M., Gerritsen, D., Smalbrugge, M., & Zuidema, S. (2019, October 12). Reducing inappropriate psychotropic drug use in Nursing Home residents with dementia: Protocol for participatory action research in a stepped-wedge cluster randomized trial. Retrieved November 01, 2021, from
  4. Human Rights Watch, & Washington Post. (2020, October 28). Why are nursing homes drugging dementia patients without their consent? Retrieved November 01, 2021, from