June 9, 2011

A gracious, intelligent, elegant, gainfully employed, lively woman in her early 80s who looks and acts much younger has unplanned major surgery, resulting in deconditioning and weakness requiring a transfer to a long-term care facility (i.e., a nursing home) with the promise and expectation of a short stay for rehabilitative services such as physical therapy and occupational therapy prior to discharge to the sanctity and comfort of her home, where she will be taken care of by her loving husband of more than 50 years. The surgery was a resounding success despite the very real threat of death on the operating room table. Our heroine’s three adult daughters had earlier arrived from distant places from around the U.S. to be at their mother’s hospital bedside. All seems to be going well and the family feels the lifting of the emotional burden of the unknown when the surgeon announces that their mother/wife is well enough to be transferred to another facility for continued rehabilitation.  

The transfer to the nursing home comes with little advance notice. The nursing home is near the hospital where the surgery was performed but neither the surgeon nor the family know anything about the nursing home. The family is not given the opportunity to visit the nursing home before admission and they are not given any alternatives to the nursing home that the hospital has chosen — a bed is available at the nursing home and that seems all that matters to the hospital.

The ride to the nursing home is completed by a private ambulance company. The proud, accomplished mother/wife arrives during the early evening where she is met by a harried social worker employed by the nursing home whose job it is to act as a go-between for the patient, her family, and the employees/caregivers of the nursing home.  The social worker appears flustered that the “new patient” has arrived when she did. Her room is not yet ready and no staff with any medical training is available to greet and evaluate this new paying customer. Finally, a person who identifies herself as “your mother’s nurse” arrives and tells the family to go home because she needs to process the new admission. The family reluctantly leaves, seeing the unmistaken fear of the unknown in their mother’s eyes. Now, their mother (and wife ) lies in a strange bed, completely helpless and totally subjected to the will and whim of the unfamiliar employees of the nursing home.

If there was ever a mistake made in naming a place, the descriptive phrase “nursing home” would be at the top of the  list. Nothing about a nursing home is “home” — the patient’s room and furnishings are not her own, the bed has been previously slept in by many people and has now been randomly assigned to her, people enter and leave her room at all hours of the day and night without asking permission and without prior announcement, the gown placed on her body was on someone else  before her and will be on someone else after her, the temperature in the room is set by the “home” and adjusted to its preference (not her’s), strangers roam the halls and random announcements are made over a loudspeaker, an underlying but undeniable odor of urine permeates the air throughout the nursing home, she must push a button at her bedside and wait for as long as it takes for someone to respond to her room to assist her with the most basic of her bodily functions, she must wait for a meal pre-packaged in Styrofoam and accompanied by plastic utensils to be delivered on a cafeteria-style tray and slipped onto a raised table by her bedside (some of her like-situated neighbors must wait for someone to come to their rooms to feed them because they cannot feed themselves — the wait can be very long and the food can become very cold — is it any surprise that rapid and unhealthy loss of weight is a serious medical condition that commonly develops among nursing home patients during even short-term nursing home stays?). Nursing home residents are much closer to death than they are to life; in short, this is nothing like a home but more aptly described as God’s Waiting Room.

The need to rely on the assistance of someone else for every need of daily living — from getting into and out bed or a chair, to getting dressed, to eating, to urinating and defecating, etc. — is demoralizing  at a minimum. Such required assistance becomes dehumanizing, dangerous, degrading, and a gross loss of dignity when the “care” provided by the nursing home falls way short of the minimum that most of us would consider to be acceptable. The woman and her family described above have  suffered severe mental anguish due to the loss and shifting of control to the nursing home — the woman is routinely left in her own feces for hours on end because the nursing home staff is too busy to provide the necessary care or the employee on duty assigned to the woman’s care just doesn’t care (never acceptable, not understandable, borderline criminal, and definitely abusive). The woman is too scared to complain to the nursing home or to her family about the lack of attention to her basic needs because she  fears that the unfeeling and uncaring staff will retaliate against her (not an unjustified fear given the lack of humanity and compassion of the staff). When the family finally observes for themselves the bad care and the results from the bad care (the mother/wife’s physical and mental conditions continue to deteriorate despite the  “nursing home care”), they too are hesitant to complain “too much” to the nurse manager and nursing home administrator because their empty promises to investigate the complaints and respond appropriately are soon discovered to be the company-line to placate the families of the residents, with no hope of fulfilment.

The woman dies, the family mourns, and the nursing home admits another paying customer to occupy the woman’s vacant bed. And the process repeats itself. God’s Waiting Room — may you never experience such an undignified and sad end of life.

If you or a love one were injured or died as a result of bad nursing home care, use our website to find medical malpractice lawyers who handle nursing home cases and are willing to assist you with your claim of nursing home neglect or abuse. Or call us toll free 800-295-3959 for help.

This blog is dedicated to Eva and her family, with love and understanding