At least once a week, staff at a local nursing home ombudsman agency field a question from someone concerned about residents unnecessarily being given anti-psychotic drugs.
It's a trend that has gained national attention, prompting officials across the country to work toward reducing the use of anti-psychotic drugs in nursing homes by 15 percent by Dec. 31. The goal to reduce the use of anti-psychotic drugs is part of a new federal initiative to improve dementia care.
"They've noticed a decline in their loved one," or decide not to place a relative in a facility "because they thought the residents appeared sedated," said Sherry Culp, executive director of the Nursing Home Ombudsman Agency of the Bluegrass, a non-profit that serves Fayette and 16 other counties.
In Kentucky, a number of groups have agreed to participate in the initiative, including state officials, advocacy groups and nursing home industry representatives, said Don McLeod, spokesman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
"We hope that organizations working in Kentucky will have a plan in place, at least with a framework for how to get started, within the next month or two," McLeod said.
On a national level, federal data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services show that more than 17 percent of nursing home patients had daily doses exceeding recommended levels in 2010, according to the federal agency's statement.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and administers the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Medicaid provides health care for low-income elderly people in nursing homes.
Bernie Vonderheide, founder of Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform, said most nursing homes do not employ enough staff and the temptation is to resort to drugs to "knock out" their problem patients.
"Many nursing homes do not hire a sufficient number of caregivers in order to maximize their profits. Employees are a nursing home's biggest cost," said Vonderheide, who will help with Kentucky's plan. "Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform, along with other consumer advocates, will continue to press for answers that will contribute to better care for the nursing home residents and not the pocketbooks of a wealthy industry."
As part of the initiative, CMS is emphasizing alternatives to the anti-psychotic drugs that include consistent staff assignments, increased exercise or time outdoors, managing pain and planning individualized activities.
Starting next month, CMS is making data on each nursing home's anti-psychotic drug use available on its Nursing Home Compare Web site.
CMS will be working with the organizations in the coming months on the initiative called Partnership to Improve Dementia Care. The effort will provide information, education and resources to improve dementia care, behavioral health and reduction of anti-psychotic drugs "where necessary and appropriate for residents in Kentucky nursing homes," said McLeod.
Officials from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services will be working on the initiative, including staff from the Cabinet's Office of Inspector General, which inspects and provides oversight of nursing homes, said Cabinet spokeswoman Gwenda Bond.
Meanwhile, on June 19, the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities, an organization that represents nursing homes, is offering a seminar that in part, addresses how to reduce the use of anti-psychotic drugs, said its president, Ruby Jo Cummins Lubarsky.