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Theft and loss: Addressing security in LTC

March 22, 2016
by Kylen Cieslak, Carstens, Inc.
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Kylen Cieslak

“A group of banks conducted a study on ways to provide safety deposit boxes in community places …  It became apparent that there was a need for lock boxes and other prevention programs in some nursing homes because of the unsafe reputation of some facilities and the high incidence of stolen personal items in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.” Crimestoppers, Inc., 1995

When things go missing at a long-term care (LTC) facility, it’s a headache for everyone. Theft, loss and misappropriation all have administrative and legal consequences, especially if medications or valuable property are involved.

Some thefts are committed by residents with dementia, who may enter another resident’s room without permission or become confused about the ownership of an object. But, visitors, caregivers and housekeeping personnel also are often under scrutiny for missing items, especially medications.

Various states have regulations governing money management and personal property for residents of nursing homes and other LTC facilities. Facilities must have “reasonable security” to prevent theft or loss of clothing and personal property. Without policies in place, investigation of quantity discrepancies and missing medications is difficult at best.

Risks of stolen/diverted drugs

Loss and theft are not limited to personal items.  Prescription medications are also a concern. The average nursing home resident takes 6.7 routinely scheduled and 2.6 “as needed” medications, according to a 2000 national study. In addition, 27 percent of LTC residents take nine or more routinely scheduled medications. Controlled substances, such as tranquilizers and narcotic pain medications, have a great potential for abuse.

If you are a nurse manager/administrator or purchasing director for a long-term rehabilitative or living facility, you are aware that large quantities of medications are ordered and stored onsite, and when stolen or “diverted from the intended patient,” the DEA and state narcotic abuse agencies may become involved. This could generate the kinds of headlines you don’t want for your business.

Flagship facilities are decentralizing

Studies have shown that decentralizing medications by positioning an automated dispensing cabinet away from the nurses station (in-room, per-patient or outside patient rooms, on the ward floor), brings the caregiving staff closer to point-of-use and frees up one area of activity in an already busy workspace: the nurses station.

Decentralization can maximize nurses station workflow, improve visibility of patients (50 percent of nursing care time is spent away from the patient) and save on time and walking.

Access control systems

Patient medication and valuables can be stored securely in cabinets inside the resident’s room. The most secure cabinets are those with access control. When cabinets have access control technology, the resident and/or family members can store their valuables in one section of the cabinet, while the medications can be stored in another section accessible only by nursing staff. Some cabinets are available with technology that uses individualized “permission management” and tracks the activity per cabinet and per user, providing audit reports to management.

In summary, installing cabinets with access control inside of the resident’s room provides nurses with easy access to the medications when and where they are needed and gives residents peace of mind, knowing their medication is near and their valuables are secure.  

Kylen Cieslak is Associate Director of Marketing and Customer Service for Carstens.