Oklahoma ranks number one in the nation for prescribing antipsychotic medications to nursing home residents without a diagnosis, but Governor Stitt signed a bill that advocates hope will protect the frailest and vulnerable.
According to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, one in five nursing home residents in Oklahoma are receiving an antipsychotic drug. State Representative Tammy West, (R- Oklahoma City), said she co-authored Senate Bill 142 because the residents are too often given drugs to modify their sleep or behavior without proof they need the medications.
“I think when I presented the bill on the floor if I would have asked for a show of hands for those who had been impacted by something like this, pretty much every hand on that floor would have gone up,” said West.
West said her own grandmother experienced a similar situation. The 72-year-old given anti-psychotic medications while recovering from a broken hip at a rehab facility.
"It was like instant dementia. We never got her back. It was like she went in, and it was her, and then she was gone. But yet she was with us,” said West.
The bill requires a physical exam by a medical professional, true informed consent from the family or a caregiver, and it protects nursing home residents to be kicked out of a facility for refusing to take medications. It’s part of AARP’s Nursing Home Care Plan to create accountability, reform, and excellence in state nursing homes.
“They’re chemical restraints, and unfortunately, that’s happening too often,” said Sean Voskuhl, AARP State Director. "We've got to do better. This over-prescribing, drugging our seniors, is immoral and we've got to work to make it better.”
Voskuhl said News on 6’s coverage of nursing home abuse and Oklahoma’s poor nursing home rankings helped spark conversations about the Care Plan.
"Your report really highlighted what a lot of people go through. Their loved ones, they've experienced a lot of this,” said Voskuhl. "We found that after the bills were introduced and the story ran, that people were 'you know, this happened to my family, and so what can we do to help?' And so I think this is a first of a long journey we have to improve our long-term care."
Several bills are working their way through the House and Senate, including Senate Bill 888, which would have long-term care ombudsmen let the elderly know of other options, like Advantage Waiver, a Pace Program, or adult daycares. Oklahoma ranks second in the nation for the number of low-care needs residents who are living in nursing facilities but could better be treated with home and community-based services.
"It didn't take us one year to get in this bad situation and low rankings. But I think this will be a tremendous signal as we move forward for the country, and knowing that change can happen,” said Voskuhl.
West said she’s hopeful the quality of Oklahoma’s nursing homes will slowly improve with
"My grandmother had a saying. She said 'I've been where you are, and you will be where I am.' I think that resonates, and it applies in this situation. And if we don't take care of the most vulnerable in our communities, I think we're not doing the right thing. "