NURSING HOMES GONE ASTRAY
A New Type Of Investigation
By Kelly Riddle


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I recently have become involved in a travesty of justice regarding the nursing home industry. The family of a lady who had been in a nursing home asked me to check into the nursing home where their mother was a resident because they suspected she had been mistreated. During the course of the investigation, I located and interviewed 20-30 former employees of the nursing home. What I found after interviewing these people lead me to one inescapable conclusion: I would never put a relative of mine into a nursing home.

 

The majority of the nursing home employees had worked for 4-5 other nursing homes and they indicated that the abuse and neglect occurs in various degrees in almost every nursing home. It would have been one thing if only one or two employees told me some of the horror stories, but almost everyone interviewed agreed that the patients were mistreated. It is kind of hard to believe and you almost refuse to believe that someone would intentionally abuse the elderly, especially when you realize that they could be your mother or father.

 

During the interviews of the ex-employees, I was told that it was common for the employees to move the emergency call light buttons away from the patients to keep them from annoying the staff. Some had even unplugged the call light and replaced it with a "dummy" plug that they put into the electrical socket to keep the call light from going off. If a patient became agitated for some reason, the employees indicated they would often place the patient into physical restraints without a doctor's order. If they didn't want to be that obvious, they would give the patient a "chemical restraint," which would knock them out. Thefts were a major problem according to the employees and some even indicated that some businesses had donated some clocks, radios and tape players for the elderly just before Christmas and within two days, none of them could be found anywhere in the nursing home.

 

Almost every employee indicated they knew when a state audit was coming because all nursing homes keep a closet full of new sheets, curtains, table cloths and things of that nature that can be put out while the audit is in progress and taken away afterwards. The employees on the 3-11 and 11-7 shifts indicated that it was common to find some employees on those shifts sleeping in the TV room, which created more problems for an already understaffed floor. According to the information, it was not uncommon to find aides giving out medicine, starting G-tubes or signing charts that only licensed LVN's or RN's are supposed to handle.

 

Then I learned about "slam-dunking." This term is given to those patients who are in wheelchairs and get lifted out to be placed into bed. According to the employees, slam-dunking occurs when the aid "throws" or otherwise roughly mishandles a patient while putting them back into bed. Since the elderly usually have brittle bones to begin with, this is encouraging breaks and bruises. Every employee interviewed indicated that staffing is a problem in all nursing homes and because of the shortage of staff, a lot of "bad apples" get into the nursing homes. Although almost every home has a policy that the patients have to be turned every two hours to prevent bed sores, it became obvious that this didn't occur due to understaffing and the laziness of employees. The nurses indicated that suspicious bruises were not to be reported on the patients' charts as this would create problems with the state. Therefore, only the most severe abuse appears to be documented.

 

Then there were the employees who indicated that food was used as a source of punishment. The interviews revealed that the patients' food would be taken away from them as a source of punishment if they acted up in any way. The elderly typically have problems with nutrition as it is without having to take away food from them. Some nursing homes have gone to the adult diapers in an attempt to cut down on laundry and bed stains. Unfortunately, according to employees, this meant that the patients did not have to be checked as often.

 

I then stumbled onto some situations which are more one-of-a-kind, but which could have the possibility of being repeated. For instance, I was told about a situation where an aid was called in to work early. When she arrived at 5:00 A.M., she was visibly upset due to a conflict at home. The nurse on duty gave her some medication to calm her down and she ended up over-dosing and having to be rushed to the hospital. Then there was the aid who would get upset ` the elderly would have a bowel movement in their bed. She was caught using the patients own bowel movement on the patient as toothpaste.

 

It became apparent from this one investigation that the nursing home industry is in need of some serious policing. The state offices which have the responsibility to regulate the nursing homes are under-staffed themselves, which contributes to the problem. One thing is for certain, if my relatives are ever forced into a nursing home, I will check out the nursing home thoroughly and put hidden video cameras in their room as protection.

 

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