Sunday night Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed SB 303 (Alquist), a landmark bill that sought to reduce the rampant drugging of nursing home residents in California. In doing so, he put the interests of substandard nursing homes and unethical doctors above elderly nursing home residents.
SB 303 would have required doctors to inform residents about the dangers of mind-altering drugs and required nursing homes to verify that residents or their representatives had given consent before these drugs could be used.
Misuse of psychoactive drugs has reached epidemic proportions in California. Nearly 60 percent of California nursing home residents are given psychoactive drugs, a 30 percent increase since 2000.
Of greatest concern is the widespread use of antipsychotic drugs, an especially powerful and dangerous class of psychoactive drugs. On a daily basis, California nursing homes give antipsychotic drugs to about 25,000 residents – about one of every four residents – despite their deadly results. The FDA has issued its most dire alert, known as a black box warning, that antipsychotic drugs greatly increase the risk of death for elders with dementia.
In his veto message, the Governor admitted that misuse of antipsychotic drugs is a pervasive problem in nursing homes. He cited a recent study that found more than half of residents on antipsychotics are being drugged outside federal guidelines, yet vetoed the bill anyway.
“It is shocking that the Governor is protecting doctors and nursing homes that are drugging tens of thousands of elders with dementia into submission,” said Patricia McGinnis, CANHR’s executive director. “Thousands of nursing home residents will continue to die from these deadly drugs.”
California nursing home residents are dying due to misuse of these drugs. This point was most recently made during Assembly floor debate on SB 303 when Assembly Member Diane Harkey (R – Dana Point) stated that her mother died prematurely after being excessively drugged in a nursing home without consent. Her experience mirrors what happened at Kern Valley Healthcare District, where 22 residents were overmedicated with psychoactive drugs despite no informed consent having been given. Three residents were killed as a result of the medications, spurring Attorney General Jerry Brown to file criminal elder abuse charges against the facility’s administrator, director of nurses, pharmacist, and medical director.
SB 303 was sponsored by CANHR and supported by many individuals and organizations, including AARP, Advocacy, Inc., Alameda County Network of Mental Health Clients, Alzheimer’s Association, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, California Alliance for Retired Americans, California Senior Legislature, Congress of California Seniors, Consumer Attorneys of California, Contra Costa County Advisory Council on Aging, Dayle McIntosh Center, Disability Rights California, Foundation Aiding the Elderly, Gray Panthers Sacramento, Kings/Tulare Area Agency on Aging, Long Term Care Services of Ventura County, Older Women’s League of California, Ombudsman & HICAP Services of Northern California and Pathways Home Health and Hospice.