Killing care: Seniors at deadly risk in hospitals, nursing homes
“Your dad peed in a corner, so we ‘snowed’ him,” says the nurse’s quote from the article on the homepage of the Seniors At Risk Coalition. This is merely one of the horror stories reported there, telling how helpless old people are being drugged against their will, regardless of Powers of Attorney and other legal protections, all over the rabid objections of their families. In many cases, these drugs are leading to the premature and unnecessary deaths of defenseless old people.
‘Snowing’ is the casual, harmless-sounding term used by nursing home staffers in British Columbia and elsewhere, for using antipsychotic drugs to manage non-compliant patients. Imagine that: The practice is so prevalent that it rates its own nickname!
This particular article is a testimony from a family who watched their partly-disabled, but cheerful and outgoing father, Jack Johnson, disintegrate into anger and agitation shortly after being given the drug Seroquel, despite a prohibition against its use in elderly patients. Notwithstanding a case which netted Seroquel’s maker, AstraZeneca, a fine of $520 million for the promotion of unapproved uses, including for the elderly, Mr. Johnson was given the drug to calm him down.
“When they’re agitated, we give them more medication, “ the nurse told Johnson’s family.
“They said Dad was quite happy, moving around, scooting here and there, but in reality, he was stiff as a board, mouth gaping, eyes rolled back, not knowing anyone,” said Dina Loeb, Johnson’s daughter. The family blamed the drug Seroquel for what ultimately led to Jack Johnson’s death: The drug had been used for an off-label purpose in Johnson’s case, despite known serious side effects. His crime of mistaking a corner for a urinal thus resulted in his being reduced to a shell of his former self, suffering the loss of all communication with family and others, and they with him, while locked in a drug-induced void… and then he died.
One might think that this was a horror story, indeed, but surely must have been an isolated incident. But shockingly, it has become more cost-efficient and expedient for nursing homes, hospital geriatric wards, and other long-term care facilities to use chemical means to subdue patients viewed as non-compliant. This, without giving consideration to the potential for deadly results from drug toxicity or interactions, and with complete disregard for the patient’s absolute right to informed consent. Doctors know it as ‘polypharmacy’, a practice frowned upon by medical authorities, yet roundly ignored.
In another report on the Seniors At Risk website, stroke victim Arthur Hippe lies in a hospital outside of Toronto. Hippe was responsive, alert, and cognitive until the hospital started him on Zyprexa, another drug contraindicated in the elderly, as it can cause strokes and heart attacks. Off-label use of Zyprexa was the reason for the largest criminal fine in US history -- $3 Billion – just months before it was prescribed to Arthur Hippe, and both his attending physicians knew full well about that case, but used it anyway. Zyprexa made Arthur lash out, so they restrained him, and added Haloperidol to his med list. When challenged by Hippe’s authorized Power of Attorney, they merely shrugged and refused to remove these drugs from his medication list, even though Hippe had legal representation in the room, as well as his substitute decision-maker.
Adding insult to injury, the hospital was aided and abetted by the Provincial Guardian and Trustee’s Office in Toronto, which attempted to take guardianship of Mr. Hippe, and have his Power of Attorney revoked on the basis of her ‘incompetence’, but was thwarted by the fact that two people (who knew Mr. Hippe, as well as his wishes regarding his medical care) had witnessed his execution of the Power of Attorney document, and stood ready to swear to it.
Notwithstanding, the document has in no way ever stopped the hospital from doing whatever they pleased with poor Mr. Hippe, who has become emaciated, losing nearly half his body weight, since being in their ‘care’.
The stories are myriad, the vast majority never being heard, so overwhelmed are families in the face of the juggernaut of authority they face when first they dare to say ‘no’. Through media advertisements, articles, talk shows and the like, paid for by pharmaceutical companies and governments, the public is encouraged to believe that torturous abuse of the elderly is the product of family members and others, not the loving and caring institutions into whose care their very lives are entrusted. This makes it difficult for the public to believe anything like this would go on, or could go on, not here, not in this country. What sort of people would treat old people that way?
Apparently, the sort you’d least expect.
According to Seniors At Risk’s Lois Sampson, families who believe their elderly parents are protected by Powers of Attorney and other legal remedies are horrified to discover that patient rights are now routinely ignored by these institutions, and become further stunned to find themselves under attack when they attempt to enforce these rights in the best interest of their loved ones.
In her own mother’s case, Sampson was herself labeled ‘incompetent’, in order to discredit her well-founded concerns: Meanwhile, her mother was being given increasing doses of morphine, which fact was proven by paramedics who successfully treated her for an overdose. The same tactic was employed against Hippe’s Power of Attorney, who was banned under threat of prosecution if she came onto hospital property. This left Hippe with no visitors at all, until the hospital relented, giving his legally-appointed substitute decision-maker (and life partner of 26 years) a visiting window of two hours per day, even though the police had determined that she was in no way a threat and that the ban was in fact illegal.
The sad fact is that the banning of visiting family members and friends is becoming a common practice, one which stonewalls the patient and his rights, and renders him completely helpless.
What is most frightening about this scenario is that the very things we expect will protect us from harm can no longer do so. Government agencies like provincial Guardian & Trustee offices align with whatever the doctors say; their collusion is self-evident. Substitute decision-makers are demonized, the moment they go against the grain. Nor is there a remedy in the provincial Ombudsman’s office, where “concerns can be presented, but nothing is ever done about them”, Sampson confirms.
“In BC, the Ombudsman must sign an agreement stating that all complaints will be forwarded to the government before any decision is made,” she reveals. “This means that the Ombudsman is being directed by the government.” And we all know who signs his paychecks.
It seems that even having a bulldog lawyer, starved for the taste of the ankles of overweening authorities, is no guarantee that the state and the institution will back off. When the chips are down, they circle the wagons, and wait till the family coffers are empty. And judges routinely take the word of white-coated doctors over frantic family members.
This is one meanly-stacked deck.
It gets worse: the government is now ‘Granny-snatching’. Vulnerable seniors are being declared incompetent, forcibly removed from their homes, and drugged into oblivion when they object. In fact, Lois Sampson was recently involved with a family that has had to ‘kidnap’ their 88-year old mother from her nursing home and take her to a safe place, to avoid forced Electric Shock Therapy to treat her for ‘depression’.
As if these facts are not shocking enough, a June 2012 article in the National Post points to a recommendation by the prestigious Canadian Medical Journal (CMJ) that ‘therapeutic homicide’ be discussed as a means of dealing with ‘hopeless’ cases. Although this is framed as a medical option for those whose poor quality of life makes death a mercy, it is well known to Seniors At Risk that this practice is already in play, and it is merciless, not merciful. There is nothing therapeutic about it.
In many instances, families are told it would be ‘kinder’ just to let their afflicted loved one die. Arthur Hippe’s spouse was told this from the beginning. Then, her objections and rights were ignored, her ministrations to Hippe prevented, and the hospital, without her knowledge, changed Hippe’s status to ‘palliative care’, despite the fact he was not, and is not, suffering from a terminal illness. Doctors also added a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order on his chart, against her emphatic and explicit instructions. Given these facts, and that no sort of rehabilitative therapy was ever given to Mr. Hippe other than drugs and more drugs, and it becomes abundantly clear that at no time did the hospital encourage his recovery. Instead, from the facts in evidence, it appears they are hastening his demise.
And that was their suggestion in the first place.
Lois Sampson states that her group hears all too many stories of families being told that it would be ‘kinder’ to let these patients die. What is intended here, she explains, is death by starvation: The hospital would withhold all food and water from the patient, giving only morphine or other heavy pain killer to dull the horrendous agonies suffered by those whose organs are shutting down.
“In most cases,” she says, “it takes about 3 days for them to die.”
It seems that every aspect of many elderly patients’ lives are being completely taken over by a rapacious system that has every angle covered. Agencies and institutions use declarations of ‘incompetence’ against substitute decision-makers, using dirty tactics that are the stuff of Hollywood scripts. This includes taking over the estate assets of an individual trapped in the system, subjecting patients to undisclosed drug studies, taking perks from drug companies in exchange for pushing their particular products, and charging the taxpayer huge fees for their ‘services’. It becomes a foul-smelling morass in which our seniors are made vulnerable, are used by the system to keep the profits flowing, and when that runs out, are casually eliminated.
What next, “Soylent Green”?
It is stories like those revealed by the Seniors At Risk Coalition which lend credence to the rumors of ‘death panels’ hidden in the fine print of Obamacare, and to the agenda behind having ‘therapeutic homicide’ on the agenda of the Canadian Medical Association. Whatever people call it, there is an increasing tendency for care homes, hospices and hospitals to treat patients as mere commodities to be exploited, until they can be exploited no more, accompanied by a wave of fresh horror stories coming from all corners of the continent.
Grannies everywhere deserve our gratitude and our respect in their sunset years. Most of all, right now, they deserve our vigilance, and our protection. And these days, families need to give it all they’ve got.