During the past two weeks, there has been more coverage in the media of nursing home abuse and neglect. (If you haven't seen any of the coverage, you're not alone. During the same period there was a frenzy of media coverage on stock market, which made three unprecedented "bear" lows rivaling the Great Depression.) This week's blog is for the family members and caregivers of the approximately one million family members with brain impairment who depend on nursing homes for their care.
Instead of trying to pin blame on who's at fault, we need to find solutions to make sure our loved ones are not threatened, neglected, or worse yet, abused.
A personal example will illustrate. Only 12 hours after my father walked across the double-doored threshold of our local nursing home, he disappeared. The administrator (no longer there) reacted by telling me that my father was "too high functioning" to stay there. This, despite all their assessments indicating he was appropriate for placement.
Our (including my husband and a friend) priority that cold February night was to find him. Three hours later, he was found walking along the freeway in another county of the Mojave Desert trying to "hitch a ride" to Milwaukee where he had lived for 45 years.
We returned to the administrator's office only to learn they really didn't want him (if he was going to be trouble for them). For the next several weeks they tried to intimidate me and threatened to evict him. There was no other option in our small town at the time; so with the help of an attorney and an ombudsman, I held my ground and insisted that they must follow the policies and procedures they had so carefully developed. My father's Great Escape occurred simply because they did not adhere to their carefully crafted policies.
From this point forward, I visited my father two or three times a week. I monitored his careplan and talked with those who provided his care. After a couple years, the administrator was gone and so was the owner. A new owner stepped in with several generations of newer and better administrators who were more accessible to the families and involved with the residents.
What did we learn?Two major lessons: 1. After you place your loved one, REMAIN INVOLVED. Visit frequently. If this is not possible, invite a friend, neighbor, or another family member to visit your loved one. Talk with the care staff. Remember, you're maintaining relationships with other human beings. Encourage them, befriend them, so they will provide optimal care for your loved one. If they have questions, ask them not to hesitate to contact you directly. Be available for their calls (i.e., answer your cell phone or telephone 24 hours a day). Emergencies happen and they should be able to reach you.
2. HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE to their procedures. Every so often, I visited, I would also review my father's careplan binder and if something seemed out of the ordinary, I would question it. Additionally, I periodically requested and paid for copies to be made of the binder's contents. Finally, I took notes of issues that emerged. If they didn't require immediate attention, I waited to bring them up during the quarterly careplan meetings. After each interaction with the staff, I'd make sure that the agreed upon actions were being taken. If not, I would hold them (gently and persistently) accountable.
If you do your part, you will ensure your loved one receives optimum care. You'd be surprised how many residents have no family, no visitors, nothing. It is hard for these residents to advocate for their own care when they have no means of support. I recommend you play an active role in your loved one's care, and visit often. If you can't, ask a friend, other family member, or neighbor to visit during those times you can't be there.