More patients in San Diego County nursing homes and across the country are being diagnosed with schizophrenia for reasons that are questionable and raise concerns about nursing home negligence, as a recent article in The New York Times suggested. But are some patients more affected than others, and is race playing a role? A follow-up report in The New York Times argues that Black residents are being disproportionately affected by these harmful diagnoses and subsequent administration of antipsychotic medications, suggesting that nursing home abuse has a clear racial dimension in these situations. Are schizophrenia diagnoses, and other issues in nursing homes, affecting Black residents more than other elderly patients at skilled nursing facilities?
Black Nursing Home Residents are Diagnosed with Schizophrenia More Often
More nursing home residents are being diagnosed with schizophrenia so that the facilities can administer antipsychotic drugs to “difficult” patients, The New York Times has suggested. Indeed, since nursing home residents with schizophrenia can still readily be prescribed antipsychotic medications (whereas regulations have attempted to reduce the use of antipsychotics in other nursing home cases), there has been a surge in the number of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia. Since 2012, the number of elderly patients diagnosed with schizophrenia has “grown by 70%.” The article points to a new study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, which found that the “impact of this has been more severe on Black residents.”
The article describes these schizophrenia diagnoses as the “schizophrenia loophole,” explaining how nursing homes can “continue sedating dementia patients instead of providing the more costly, staff-intensive care that regulators are trying to promote,” by diagnosing them with schizophrenia. Based on the study cited, “Black Americans with dementia have been 1.7 times as likely as their white nursing home neighbors to be diagnosed with schizophrenia.”
Many Black Nursing Home Residents are Already More Vulnerable
The lead author of the cited study, Shekinah A. Fashaw-Walters, explained that she “wanted to look at that increase in schizophrenia by race to see if this policy had a differential effect.” Not only do more elderly Black nursing home residents appear to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, but many of these skilled nursing facility residents are already in more vulnerable situations as compared with white nursing home residents. Indeed, as Fashaw-Walters clarified, “Black nursing home residents are already more likely to live in facilities that rank lower in numbered quality measures.” On top of that, Black nursing home residents also “now face higher health risks of being misdiagnosed as schizophrenic to justify antipsychotic prescriptions.”
As The New York Times underscores, there are many serious effects of using antipsychotic medications on elderly patients who have been misdiagnosed with schizophrenia, including an increased risk of fall injuries and even death. It is critical for nursing home safety advocates to consider the impact of race, and the ways in which Black residents may thus sustain serious and fatal injuries at a disproportionate rate.
Contact an Elder Abuse Lawyer in San Diego County
If you have any concerns about nursing home abuse or neglect in Southern California, you should seek advice from one of our San Diego County nursing home negligence attorneys as soon as possible. Contact the Walton Law Firm for more information.
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