Pennsylvania attorney Douglas Roeder, who often served as a visiting attorney for my former Elder Protection Clinic, shared with us a detailed Penn Live news article on what the investigative team of writers term "avoidable deaths" in nursing homes and similar care settings. The article begins vividly, with an example from Doylestown in southeastern Pennsylvania:
Claudia Whittaker arrived to find her 92-year-old father still at the bottom of the nursing home's front steps. He was covered by a tarp and surrounded by police tape, but the sight of one of his slim ankles erased any hope it wasn't him. DeWitt Whittaker, a former World War II flight engineer, had dementia and was known to wander. As a result, his care plan required him to be belted into his wheelchair and watched at all times. Early on Sept. 16, 2015, Whittaker somehow got outside the Golden Living home in Doylestown and rolled down the steps to his death.
"It wasn't the steps that killed him. But the inattention of staff and their failure to keep him safe," his daughter said.
The article is especially critical of recent data coming from for-profit nursing homes in Pennsylvania, pointing to inadequate staffing as a key factor:
In general, according to PennLive's analysis, Pennsylvania's lowest-rated nursing homes are for-profit facilities. Half of the state's 371 for-profit homes have a one-star or two-star rating – twice the rate of its 299 non-profit nursing homes. The reason for that discrepancy, experts say, isn't complicated: Studies have found that for-profit nursing homes are more likely to cut corners on staffing to maximize profit.
Spokespeople from both the for-profit and nonprofit segments of the industry are quoted in the article and they push back against the investigators' conclusions.
I have to say from my own family experience that while adequate staffing in care settings is extraordinarily important, older residents, even with advanced dementia, often have very strong opinions about what they prefer. My father is in a no restraint dementia-care setting, with a small cottage ("greenhouse") concept and lots of programming and behavioral interventions employed in order to avoid even the mildest of restraints. It was a deliberate choice by the family and my dad walks a lot around the campus and has his favorite benches in sunny spots.
The trade-off for "no restraints" can be higher risk. Residents, including my father, are sometimes stunningly adept at escape from carefully designed "safety"plans, such as those necessary in the summer heat of Arizona. Family members often remain essential members of the care team. For example, this summer I plan my daily visits at the very hottest part of the day, in order to help try to lure my father, a late-in-life sunshine worshiper, back into the cool. I watch the staff members exhaust themselves intervening with other ambulatory and wheelchair residents who are constantly on the move.
None of this "care stuff" is easy, but certainly the Penn Live article paints a strong picture for why better staffing, better financial resources, and more reality-based plans are necessary. For more, read "Failing the Frail." Our thanks to Doug for sharing this good article.
August 3, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, Property Management | Permalink
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