Long Term Care Facilities & The Elderly
Respecting our Senior Citizens Should be Natural
In an earlier hub, I referred to myself as a “jobhopper,” one who changes careers or work often; after having become bored or feeling that I had met my challenge, learned my lesson and reached the top as far as I was concerned. Probably not a great reference when seeking that serious employment opportunity. But, I wouldn’t change this for the world. I’m fortunate in that I have seen and experienced interesting aspects of our world through many and varied employment environments. Never achieving the status of "Mistress of all trades.."...nonetheless; the multiplicity of employment opportunities I've participated in has proven to be invaluable.
Volunteering was and is a pursuit in which I've spent much time and in diverse callings. The environment, animals and our elderly are all areas which I feel need continual assistance as well as constant oversight. The most vulnerable among us will always require a helping, kind and caring hand. Presently, I'm volunteering at the local Wildlife Rescue Center - Songbird Clinic. These pursuits have been some of the most rewarding ways in which I have spent my time. So much is learned when volunteering; you see a totally different angle; a vastly different view as compared to being employed by / for the institution, organization, or business.
Change is necessary
One area of volunterring has left a profound impact. I am writing about this one because a fellow hubber made reference to his experiences while working for a supply company which serviced a long term care facility and his observations and opinions caused me to recall mine. Upon considering his experiences, I felt it important enough to share mine on Hub Pages.
Caring for the elderly in our society is not an occupation many find attractive or desirable. This is very unfortunate because, we, if we’re lucky, will all reach our golden years! And, along with aging comes all the potential health related problems associated with aging. Thus, we might find ourselves, quite possibly, as residents of pootly run nursing homes.. There, but for fortune! This, alone, is reason enough to give a damn. Of course, the most important reason to be concerned about the care of our senior citizens is for the their own sake. Seniors! Our fathers, mothers, grand parents, aunts, uncles, brothers or sisters. We ALL will, with the grace of God, be seniors one day. Aging does not and should not lower the level of respect and recognition we are given in fact, growing older should increase our reverence for one another as wisdom and experience are great attributes to the human psyche.
And, quite possibly, we will find ourselves in the care of the often overworked, underpaid staff of such businesses. And, businesses they are. The sorry state of our elderly who live in long term care facilities; who can no longer fend for themselves and who do not have the assets to allow them to stay at home during their twilight years, is a shame and a travesty.
Too often, we read in local and national newspapers in addition to other sources of news media, the sordid, pathetic stories of nursing home residents and the poor care they receive. Warehousing comes to mind as pictures and video expose the substandard condition of some of these enterprises. Proper care of our elderly, along with attention to individual needs cedes to the bottom line which appears to be profit; driven by a directive of achieving that by any means necessary.
Often times, the means “necessary” translates into inferior care, dirty surroundings, minimal patient / CNA or nursing contact, less than nutritional “hospital” food and overt or covert negligence.
The owners of long term care businesses who practice cutting corners at the residents’ expense are many and spread across this nation.
How I became aware
I helped a friend who was the director of volunteerism at one such facility. She was desperate for help as the place was understaffed, the nursing aids who DID show up for their shift were already overworked from, many times, working double shifts to make up for the lack of 'on the floo'r personnel. My friend, Cleo, pled with me and other friends to help her out as she could not stand to see the old people in such horrid condition. She complained of instances of the elderly being strapped to wheel chairs, unable to vacate that chair, unable to get help and left to sit in their own waste. Other sad things occurred, as well; bed ridden seniors being left in bed for days, not turned properly or on a regular schedule, unbathed and with food trays sitting at bedside, uneaten….untouched.
It hurt her to see this and hurt more that she, alone, could not help all those in need of it. So, when she asked, I offered to volunteer my time, helping with all aspects of necessity to, at least, give some semblance of normal and decent treatment to the clients there. This entailed patience, strength and a strong constitution because, of course, as we age, we lose some of our faculties, and the ability to help ourselves in many many ways. But, just as children and helpless animals, my feelings ran deeply for the unlucky ones who ended up at that (and other) residential home(s)
More needs to be done: becoming an LTC Ombudsman
As I learned more and more about the plight of our older citizens and the obvious, unacceptable lack of care on all levels in so many situations, I felt more needed to be done. Cleo, who also was studying for her law degree, wanted to form a group; a coalition of concerned citizens who would speak out for elders in residential care facilities…and she did. Along with this effort, we joined the county Long Term Care Facility Residents’ Ombudsman Program which was started by a local woman who also shared our disgust at the circumstances of our “incarcerated” (my word) seniors.
Soon, after training and meetings, I was given 3 facilities which were my responsibility to monitor on a weekly basis. My responsibilities included observing floor staff and their handling of the clients; dietary specifications for individual clients and whether these were being followed, cleanliness, proper dispensation of medications, availability of fresh water, always in reach at bedsides, opportunity to participate in recreational choices for the ambulatory, programs designed for the bedridden or room bound residents and attitude/professional demeanor of staff. Also, I documented any and all complaints registered by the seniors there. Prior to beginning my observations as Ombudsman, I was introduced to the Head Nurse as well as the Administrator of each facility. It was clearly explained to the authorities of each facility that my visits would be periodic and unannounced.
Shortly, after touring several of my facilities, I found that dealing with it on the local level just wasn’t enough. It seemed like a slap on the wrist when a good swift kick is what was needed to straighten up this profitable industry!
The next step towards repairing the broken system
So, Cleo, myself and 2 others made a trek to the state’s capitol where we were part of a group statewide which addressed similar concerns; supporting our findings with documentation we had gathered to present to the State Board. Our comments went on record and each subject introduced to that Board had to be investigated/dealt with. (Whenever addressing a public board, it is essential to present any/all concerns so that these become an official part of the record. Any issus brought before the Board must be addressed). When an inordinate number of problems surfaced regarding an individual LTC business, issues which were more than complaints that were potentially life threatening, that facility would be shut down, immediately. If a certain number of less severe complaints were made against any particular facility; that facility was put on notice, given probation and subject to additional “unannounced inspections.”
Behind the scenes
One problem which became evident was that, quite often; these “unannounced” visits were not so unannounced. Warning, somehow, made it’s way to the Director or Owner and all Hell broke out as staff was instructed to ‘clean it up,’ ‘put a smile on your faces,’ and present yourselves and the facility in such a way to appear convincing enough that the place would look fine upon the “unexpected” visit." This order to staff was issued far and wide so that, when the "unannounced" inspector arrived, all would appear to be up to code and then some.
We informed the State Board about this, too.
I’m writing about this because, even today, when things should have - by now! - improved; that is not the case in many of the overcrowded, under staffed and less than respectable nursing homes. It is so sad; so unfortunate that our elderly are treated this way. It’s as if, once one has entered old age; once one is considered “old and in the way,” the care, concern and respect for that person evaporates! Vanished! This is endemic in our society.
What happened to respect for our elders? For wisdom?
We seem to have adopted the notion of “old and in the way.” Once a common “joke,” now, this unspoken but accepted view of the elders in our midst seems to have become part of our national psyche. .Disparaging descriptions and words have become a part of our national lexicon. We take it for granted; not realizing just how deeply this has pervaded our actions, behaviors and attitude!
Where once there was respect and reverence for the wisdom of age now, there is disrespect, disregard, disgust and it finds expression in the way in which our elders are treated when “warehoused” in LTC facilities; forced to live out their lives with little concern for their well being. Out of sight…out of mind.
Let’s consider this and act in ways to improve the condition of residents in residential care homes; they have contributed greatly and given much to create the world in which we walk w/little that threatens our way of life. We didn’t get here by ourselves..our elders, our seniors, our forefathers created this freedom for us. We should, at least, pay it back and pay it forward to our elderly citizens