Editor’s note: Second of a two-part series on nursing care reform.
I do not pretend — heaven forbid — to be an expert, or even that I’ve read widely. I don’t have time to research this topic in depth. But I do know that “distant family members showing up to visit their loved one” at nursing care facilities is one of the headaches of aides, nurses, therapists and social workers everywhere. Workers often dread when out of town family come to town.
Back in 2008 I helped produce a TV documentary called “Embracing Aging” and that’s what the nursing home employees told us. Family members throw out a stream of complaints ending with something like, “We expect better care for all the money that goes into his/her care.” And it is, definitely extremely expensive.
Family members may be feeling guilt (that they can’t visit more often), grief (to find their dad this way), and a great deal of confused unknowns. Throw in the pandemic, and you’ve got a recipe for difficult sea-changing times.
We (my sisters and I) recently had a heart-to-heart meeting on mom’s behalf with the head social worker at a beautiful and widely respected retirement facility. Last week I wrote about the new major fall Mom had this year that put her in this situation in both 2020 and 2021.
This social worker emphasized that their facility was totally at the mercy of the federal CDC (Centers for Disease Control) mandates and guidelines — some of which were of course very necessary and understandable. But as she emphasized, “The care of our aging population needs an overhaul in terms of what works in these settings. A nursing center is not a restaurant or a sports stadium or a school — and needs different authorities managing or feeding in to the care guidelines for those in nursing care.”
She stated that “The isolation our patients have gone through has been devastating.” Patients who lived independently all their lives suddenly lost all control of their lives and their loved ones.
What is more, caretakers have been brought in from medical staffing agencies. These workers go wherever they are sent or have an opportunity to go. They are often usually young, not married, at the beginning of a career. They are well trained and dedicated — but when workers are moved around a lot within facilities, they simply don’t learn to know the special needs and moods and favorite things of individual patients. Plus they are not permanent staff.
The head social worker also talked about how difficult it has been to keep their own staff — which is a new reality all across the country. To be so short staffed and unable to find and hire new permanent staff has placed workers at all levels, including administrators like herself, under extreme stress. She expressed that there needs to be change at the governmental level of caring for the aged in advance of future pandemics, which are certain to come.
Earlier, NBC news made the statement that “America now knows that nursing homes are broken.” Residents were pretty much locked in (certain exceptions); they stated that over 170,000 long-term care residents and caregivers lost their lives to COVID-19. (March 7, 2021 website report).
The NBC report said that the chief problem (besides the pandemic restrictions) is that not enough money is invested in the caregiving itself. The hands-on care that our moms and dads and grandparents receive is often spotty at best. More and more families are opting for in-home healthcare themselves, or supplementing with visiting healthcare workers. Some of it is quite affordable, even round-the-clock. That of course is not without problems as well. Some of our parents do not wish to live with family members.
A volunteer who was welcoming guests at the nursing facility where my mother is currently living was telling a visitor, “Tell your friends to visit the people they know. Our patients have been so isolated [from the pandemic], they need their families.”
Talk about these issues with your friends and loved ones — and like I encouraged last week, there is probably someone waiting and longing for a visitor in your vicinity.
For a free booklet “Praying When You are Depressed,” by Mildred Tengbom, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.