I hope that no one ever has to use the information in this post. However, senior caregivers are in a unique position to either help people in their most vulnerable hour or inflict serious injury on them. While the industry has been working (somewhat unsuccessfully) to improve its safety record, there are a few things that you can do if you notice a facility isn’t properly caring for its residents:
First of all, if it’s an emergency, call 911. I sometimes forget to mention this because it seems really obvious, but not everyone thinks about it. If you see someone who is in serious danger, you can (and should) call the police. It may turn out to be something that is best handled by another agency, but, frankly, why not let the management sort that out? Your job is to keep your loved one safe.
Also, don’t hesitate to remove your loved one from the situation. There are probably other nursing homes in your area that meet your criteria and can provide good-quality care. If something “just doesn’t seem right,” then feel free to take your business (and your loved one) elsewhere.
If it’s not an emergency, but you suspect that there are problems or if you feel that your loved one is being unfairly treated, then you have a few things that you can do to help the situation:
1) Document everything. Whatever the situation, you will have a much stronger case if you keep a detailed record of your findings. Take pictures. Write down notes if you notice unusual behavior, bruising, marks, treatment, or other problems with dates, times, and other pertinent details. In some cases, police have even used hidden cameras to catch nursing home abuse. (Note: Check with authorities before placing hidden cameras or wires, since recording without someone’s consent can be a crime in some areas.)
2) Call the nursing home ombudsman in your area. You may not know it, but there is an individual (called an “ombudsman”) who is designated as a consumer advocate in your area. The nursing home ombudsman program is completely free for you to use, and the ombudsman in your area will be able to help you get your grievances resolved. Click here for information about locating an ombudsman in your area.
3) Call the state health department, aging, or human services. States regulate nursing home and assisted living facilities. Often, the state will handle certification and bed licensure, which means that a ding on the state’s database can prevent bad communities from having their licenses renewed. Formally submitting a claim can help open investigations into nursing home abuse and cement the case against operators. You should note two things about state oversight: 1) The department that regulates nursing homes differs from state to state, so you’ll have to do some research online to find the right person. 2) State regulatory oversight can be a slow and steady process, so you cannot count on the state to fix problems in a short time period. If your loved one is in danger, remove them from the facility immediately.
4) Call the county health department. Often times, the county will have some oversight in local nursing homes, especially when it comes to how the kitchen is handled. If you encounter a problem with sanitation, county health department employees may be able to help intervene to fix the problem.
Again, I hope that you never have to use the information in this post. Unfortunately, some residents of assisted living and nursing facilities experience abuse or neglect. It’s up to family members, friends, and concerned staff members to do something to prevent this type of treatment from continuing.
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