This Op-Ed appeared in the Journal Gazette September 15, 2019
Written by: Aisha R. Arrington
“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” – Mother Teresa
Marjorie never believed that she would ever need to live in a nursing home. She had been married for 65 years before her husband passed away from pneumonia the day before Easter. For the first time in her life, she found herself alone. Her three kids tried to be supportive but two of them lived out of State and the daughter in town was already a caregiver for her husband and grandchildren. Marjorie tried to keep her daily routines simple. But even getting to the bathroom in time became a huge feat as it was located up on the top floor of her two-story home. One morning after accomplishing the goal of tackling the stairs, she slipped and tumbled to the bottom. A few days in the hospital and then a release to a rehab facility only led to Marjorie needing permanent long term care in a nursing home. She never was able to go home.
Statistics suggest that once a person reaches the age of 85, they will have a 60% chance of needing long term care in a nursing home.
Some long term care facilities are providing compassionate resident-driven care and those facilities remain a great option for someone not able to live at home. However, there are nursing homes that struggle with keeping enough staff to address the needs of the very people living there. Poor care is a reality. Complaints from residents living in nursing homes include cold food, lost laundry, call lights not being answered timely (or at all), dirty rooms, and significant care concerns.
There are laws that protect long term care residents from abuse and mistreatment.
President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Older American’s Act on July 14, 1965. This was the first federal initiative to provide comprehensive services for older adults and was reauthorized in 2016. Another initiative is the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987. The Nursing Home Reform Act was established to ensure that nursing home residents receive quality care and mandates that nursing home residents are entitled to a basic set of rights. Some of those rights include: right to privacy, right to communicate freely, right to be treated with dignity, right to be free from mistreatment, abuse and neglect, and the right to voice grievances without facing reprisal or discrimination.
There are ways to advocate for the best possible care for those living in our area nursing homes.
Residents and their families can get involved with Resident or Family Council. Resident Council is a great place for residents to share concerns. Some Resident Councils have been very influential with meal planning, creating a significant activity calendar, and creating change within the facility concerning issues with operations. Family Councils can be created by a group of concerned family members and are protected by law. Family Councils can work together to address care issues within the facility and be a voice for those that cannot advocate on their own behalf. Anyone wanting to report an allegation of mistreatment can file a formal complaint with the Indiana State Department of Health at 1.800.246.8909.
Community members can be trained as a Volunteer Ombudsman.
Ombudsman offices state-wide, supported through the Older American’s Act, investigated 200,000 nursing home complaints in 2015, according to the Administration on Aging. The LTC Ombudsman Program can train and support Volunteer Ombudsman, attend care plan meetings, provide education about resident rights, and provide information about how to advocate for quality care. Volunteer Ombudsmen are desperately needed to help visit the 85+ facilities that are located within the nine county area of Northeast Indiana. Volunteer Ombudsman can visit nursing homes and give a nursing home resident a much needed ear.
Marjorie celebrated her 90th birthday in a nursing home. She died nine days later. May her life be a reminder for the need of quality nursing home care and that there is a “life” behind the nursing home room number –
a life that should not be forgotten or uncared for.