For every such story that is reported, countless other abuses, including abuses in for-profit, and non-profit nursing homes, including VA nursing homes, go unreported.
Various surveys of nursing home care providers, who are promised anonymity, have concluded that at least 10 percent of nursing home personnel have at least occasionally physically abused residents, and at least 40 percent have verbally abused them. About 50 percent of nursing home employees also acknowledge they have sometimes neglected residents.
Several years ago, the federal Office of Inspector General reported on a study of people admitted to nursing homes for Medicare rehabilitation services. One-third of these people subsequently suffered from preventable harm, which required a prolonged stay in the nursing home or hospitalization, caused permanent injury, necessitated life-sustaining intervention, or resulted in death.
If the experiences of people admitted to nursing homes for short-term services are often awful, consider the plight of even more vulnerable long-term care residents who suffer from preventable pressure sores, dehydration, malnutrition, nasogastric tube misuse, overdrugging, poor hygiene care, and physical or psychological abuse.
I believe camera monitoring should be implemented at all facilities housing our most vulnerable citizens to help prevent and detect abuse and neglect. Without camera monitoring, fear of reprisals, sometimes violent ones, are realities that often prevent the reporting of cruelty witnessed by conscientious, but fearful, care providers, or by residents and their families.
Most large stores are camera-monitored. This usually deters any dishonest customers or employees from committing thefts, and results in detecting thefts and other crimes. Honest shoppers and employees usually aren’t offended by camera surveillance and understand the need for it. If it is justified to have surveillance in stores to prevent shoplifting, then it certainly should be justifiable to require surveillance in nursing homes and other places to help protect care-dependent people.
To prevent maltreatment caused by understaffing, facilities providing skilled care for dependent people should also be required to employ enough qualified staff to assure good care for everyone.
Our country’s nursing home mess has been well known since the 1970s, when numerous governmental investigations and newspaper exposés began to reveal the plight of people in nursing homes. One of the reasons elected officials or governing agencies are influenced more by the wishes of well-financed nursing home businesses and their lobbyists than by the needs of nursing home residents is that there is not enough pressure on them from the rest of us to make meaningful and permanent nursing home reform a priority. That is why none of the candidates hoping to be elected to the White House, to Congress, or to state legislatures are even mentioning, let alone vigorously campaigning for, nursing home reform — even though about 40 percent of Americans will spend time as nursing home residents.
Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, U.S. Rep. David Pryor, of Arkansas, became a crusader for nursing home reform after he got a job as an aide, his true identity concealed, at a nursing home in Washington, D.C. I doubt we can find many legislators nowadays willing to do what Pryor did.
What also is needed is a modification of our attitudes toward older Americans, especially those who are infirm, and the means by which our society deals with people approaching the end of their lives. In a society that prizes youth over old age, nursing home residents can be painful reminders of reality. They remind us that our own bodies will change, our physical and mental prowess will diminish, families and friends will eventually be left behind, and the time will come for each of us to deal with end of life. Unless a nursing home becomes a necessity for us or for a family member or close friend, we don’t like to think about nursing homes or about the lives of their residents.
Far too many nursing home residents rarely or never get visits from family or friends. Agonizing loneliness can be devastating for them even in the best facilities.
Much more interest and involvement is needed by both public officials and ordinary citizens to help assure that nursing home residents are not forgotten, and that they are treated with compassion, dignity and respect. After all, a nursing home can be in anyone’s future.