“It takes a significant amount of time to sit down with someone and read to them to help calm them,” Langevin said. “Is that as efficient as giving him medication? It’s definitely a better outcome for him, but nursing homes have fiscal restraints.”
Indeed, while Buckingham managed to decrease the number of patients on these medications, other homes in North Jersey increased their use, according to a review of Medicare data from 2012.
The nursing homes with the highest rates included Woodcrest Health Care in New Milford, where 32.4 percent of patients were on antipsychotics and Oak Ridge Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Wayne, which medicated 31.9 percent of its residents. The Christian Health Center in Wyckoff reported that 27.6 percent of its patients were on antipsychotics.
Woodcrest officials defended the home’s record. “We have a very active program of working diligently in partnership with our physicians, those who actually prescribe medications, to reduce the use of antipsychotic medications for our residents, including those with complex behavioral and mental health issues in addition to their underlying Alzheimer’s and dementia,” Tim Hodges, a Woodcrest spokesman, said in a statement.
Dr. Mohamed Elrafei, a psychiatrist who serves as the medical director for Ramapo Ridge, a psychiatric hospital that is part of the Christian Health Center, said the home gave the drugs to dementia patients only as a “treatment of last resort.” He added: “When someone is severely agitated and may be a danger to himself or someone else and other medications aren’t working or can’t be used; they are used when it’s absolutely necessary.”
At Oak Ridge, Agnes Braxton, administrator of the center, said her home was “working to make adjustments and gradually taper off these medications. At one point, the center had been using the medications on 37.5 percent of its patients, according to the federal data.