Sunday, February 28, 2021

Death Sheds Light on Elder Care

I have heard other horror stories like this, and always about expensive long-term care facilities. I knew of one older gentleman at a facility for dementia patients who tripped in the night, broke his leg, and lay in agony for hours and hours until the staff deigned to check on him in the morning. He died shortly afterwards. From Mary Beth Bonacci at the Arlington Catholic Herald:

Four weeks ago, Mom was found in that facility’s back yard. Frozen to death. She had let herself out through an unsecured exterior door, unnoticed and unimpeded, on a cold winter evening. No one realized she was missing until the next morning.  A health department investigator told me that she had been out there at least 12 hours. Which means caregivers over three shifts failed to recognize her absence. I’m told she was wearing thin pants, a short-sleeved shirt and socks. The overnight low was 20 degrees.

We are devastated. Beyond devastated. Frankly, I don’t know that it has completely sunk in yet. I think the brain only lets in a little horror at a time. I re-read what I just wrote, and think "Wow, that would be a really horrible thing to happen to a loved one."

I debated what my first column after Mom’s death would look like. I have felt compelled, in social media, to celebrate the person my Mom was and the way she lived. To keep the memory alive of the truly amazing person she was. But I think I did it mostly to distract my mind from the horror of how she died.

But I am feeling more compelled, in this moment, to tell the story of how she died. Because I think it needs to be told. Because others are struggling with the agonizing decision to place a parent in memory care. Because when we were doing our research, we would have wanted to know that these kinds of things happen.

I am not naming the facility here. It will be public knowledge when the Colorado Department of Health and Environment report is completed. I figure by the time the investigations are over, they will be either closed down or the safest place in the nation to place a loved one.

My point here is much bigger. I am discovering the enormous problems we face in senior care, particularly in the era of COVID. I was told by someone in the industry that, since the facilities are locked down and families can’t get in to check on their loved ones, standards are slipping in many places. With no oversight, caregivers and managers are getting lazy. I was in regular communication with Mom’s house manager, and I raised flags every time I suspected a problem. But you can only ascertain so much in phone conversations with a dementia patient.

Now, since her death, we have discovered that her nightly 2 a.m. bed check — a state mandated protocol — had only been done once in the ten days before her death. She could have disappeared on any of those nights, and no one would have realized it.

I have racked my brain to figure out what we could have done differently. The facility had no previous infractions. Their reputation was stellar. Their people seemed very caring. Their website would make you want to move in yourself.

Knowing what I know now, I would have asked some very specific questions. How are the doors secured? Are they alarmed? Is the back yard accessible at night? Are bed checks actually done every night? Who checks the logs to confirm? (Read more.)



julygirl said...

I personally know about lots of horrors in Assisted Living facilities because I am a home health aide, but I have to also say that the elderly have dangerous things occur in their own homes, with or without family members present.

Dymphna said...

When people are finally allowed into the nursing homes many families are going to be shocked.