Forbes had an article about the difficulty of relying on nursing homes to take care of our loved ones. “When your loved one is admitted to a nursing facility, you are at their mercy. There is a significant imbalance of power in many ways and many families may find themselves feeling completely lost.”
We expect that the people with the most experience will hold our hands and help us through this difficult period, however, this is not always the case. Unfortunately, the situation for seniors continues to deteriorate and, as family members try to grapple with mounting issues it can take a toll on their relationships.
One of the first things you should determine is whether there is a clear chain of command at the nursing home. Immediately find out who you should contact with all of your questions. If they rattle off different names in different departments, INSIST that you work with ONE person to avoid confusion.
Not only are there a lot of moving parts in nursing homes but there may be a high turnover rate among employees. Who you spoke to yesterday may be gone tomorrow. As such, try to maintain contact with the highest level staff member and know who you need to go to as a backup.
In workplaces where employees come and go, you may notice that a lot of people are confused about their own roles. Whether the staff members are new, poorly trained or even disinterested in their job, this is problematic because you are relying on these people for information.
To combat this issue, again, try to discuss things with one person and document every single interaction. To make this easier, consider making email your primary mode of contact. You will have a written record of everything that has been said which may come in handy if a dispute ever arises (and it probably will).
Not to sound like a broken record but nursing homes really do struggle to keep employees, especially the good ones. You may quickly discover how much this affects the quality of care at many different levels.
From poorly maintained rooms to poorly maintained records, an understaffed senior residence can be a dangerous place but there may be little that you can do. Sadly, this isn’t an uncommon issue and seniors could be left feeling neglected. Be friendly with the staff and show them you are invested. This will send the message that you are kind but also vigilant.
In the worst-case scenario, a nursing home resident can be physically or mentally harmed by negligent medical care. This, unfortunately, can have permanent consequences and may even result in their death. As a result, the anger and pain that stem from these situations can tear a family apart. By being proactive, however, you can improve your odds of a better experience.
What You Can Do
I’ve mentioned it once but I’ll say it again – document EVERYTHING. Do your best to keep important conversations restricted to email but, if you do have an in-person discussion, you can always follow-up with that person and recap everything that was said. Again, this provides you with a paper trail.
Do some research and contact every senior resource in your area including the Department of Social Services, Medicaid, Medicare and everything in between. Get the correct information from the source and double-check anything the nursing home tells you.
You can also enlist the help of the local Ombudsman and/or an attorney that specializes in elder law. Not only can they help you navigate this confusing time in your life but they can be especially helpful if anything goes wrong.
No matter what, understand that this is going to be a stressful chapter in your family’s history. Any problems that already existed could easily deepen under these circumstances. Try to always give each other the benefit of the doubt, listen with an open heart and focus your energy on making memories with your aging loved one. Everything can change in an instant so make the most of every moment.