J&J agreed last August to pay $181 million to resolve the claims. The company did not admit any wrongdoing in the case, said Teresa Mueller, a company spokeswoman, who declined to comment further.
One staff member with Buckingham at Norwood Care & Rehabilitation Center is all too familiar with the reasons some facilities turn to these medications. Colleen O’Keefe, assistant director of nursing at Buckingham, said patients would scream, spit on her and throw food across the room.
“We have a lot of residents with senile dementia with behavior disturbances. People that would hit you, fall a lot and didn’t want to eat,” O’Keefe said.
“I was old school — if you acted out, we fixed you with a pill,” she said.
But Buckingham has evolved as a leader in New Jersey in caring for the elderly, drastically reducing its use of antipsychotics. It has developed a personalized-care approach that centers on meeting each patient’s individual needs — for instance letting patients choose a shower or bath, and feeding themselves if they want, no matter how long it takes — rather than drugging them when they become frustrated and difficult.
“We went down from about 33 percent (of our patients given these drugs) to about 3 percent,” said Batsheva Katz, a vice president for Windsor Healthcare Communities, the parent company of Buckingham.
“This really isn’t a choice — this is the way we need to treat the elderly today,” she said. “Patients have a better quality of life.”
Buckingham, which started its personalized approach several years before federal officials addressed the problem, puts an emphasis on building a bond between caregivers and residents. Staffers learn a resident’s history, including longtime habits, career, hobbies and family members as well as current needs. Permanent assignments, where the same caregivers tend to the same residents each day, have been instrumental in building trust, said Helene Ledany, an administrator at the home.