A month or so ago, my father’s senior living facility scheduled a family members meeting. Although Daddy–due to his dementia–is in the memory care “retreat” area, the meeting also included family members from the assisted living side of the facility. Facilitated by an intern (who explained she would be leaving later in the week) and the facility’s programs coordinator, the meeting allowed members to talk about their experiences and help each other with the myriad details and murky bureaucracy that surrounds senior care in the 21st century.
From the first family members’ meeting a month or so before this one, Mama and I learned a few helpful ideas to keep Daddy more safe. But on this particular afternoon we learned we were not alone in our frustrations with the facility.
A few minutes late to the meeting was Sherry (NOTE: not her real name–and I have changed the names of the other people I mention in this post, to protect their privacy), the daughter of one of my parents’ dear friends, Carl. He was originally in the memory care unit with my father, but his family had recently moved him to the assisted living area of the facility. Necessitating the move was the behavior of a paranoid woman resident who refused her medication for days, wandered into Carl’s room in the middle of the night, and began yelling incoherent accusations at his bedside. Upon hearing of troubling incident, Carl’s family moved him to the safer side of the facility–or so they hoped.
Sherry reported to us, however, that after Carl’s move, her father had rolled out of bed and lain in the floor for untold hours before the staff found him there and sent him the hospital for medical attention. When he came back from the hospital, he had no care plans and no one at the facility followed up on his after-hospital care.
Further Sherry said that Catherine, a wheelchair-bound friend of Carl’s, fell and suffered an ugly cut. The wound site was not cleaned or cared for, and when Sherry inquired on Catherine’s behalf, she was told the facility’s on-site minders have no first aid supplies and seemingly no direct responsibility over patient health.
Neither do the unseasoned caregivers receive proper training, she learned. The just-graduated-from-high-school, teenage girls said they were told to watch a video on YouTube and a video from an Alzheimer’s website as their “training” to be the only caregiver responsible for 18 or so memory care patients at night, or one of two caregivers during the day.
Luckily for Daddy, Mama is with him from 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning to 5:30 in the evening every day–except Sunday when she takes a few hours to dash off to church. Mama does not live at the facility. Although she spends most of her waking hours with Daddy, she prefers to go home to her own bed at night to sleep.
My mother is at the facility more than any of the other family members and observes the teenagers on their phones or watching TV instead of helping the mentally confused and physically feeble seniors in their care. As the only continuous presence in their lives, Mama is the unpaid caregiver who keeps, not just Daddy, but the other elderly patients out of harm’s way.
Mama told the group, just a few days before the meeting she intervened when a newly hired nurse erroneously tried to give medication to two patients that was meant for the other.
Sherry summed up her frustration that the facility had given her the impression that it was a full range-of-care senior living home, when it is not equipped or properly staffed to do that job. She asked that the facility explain its areas of responsibility so she would know how to fill in the gaps on behalf of her father.
One of the meeting facilitators asked Jimmy, whose mother Rachel is also in the memory care unit, for his thoughts, and after a moment he said, “It appears to me what we have here is a self-help storage facility, and we were told it would be full service. It’s like going to McDonald’s for a meal, being told they sell hamburgers, and there are no burgers.”
Yes, I thought, he is exactly right. We were told we were placing our loved ones in a facility staffed with professionals equipped to handle the health and safety needs of elderly residents. What we got was a self-help storage facility for the aged.
“But this facility is one of the best in town,” said one of the other family members. Yes, I thought, that is also true. Daddy loves the food; the facility is brand new and looks like a resort hotel. One of the senior caregivers is wonderful and caring of her charges–though she cannot work full-time on the floor at present because she hurt her arm moving heavy male patients (no male orderlies are hired to save money, I suppose). And to their credit the facility allowed an impromptu raised bed flower and vegetable garden. Carl was once a big gardener, so Sherry bought tomatoes, I brought tomato support cages, and Mama brought more tomatoes along with peppers, cucumbers, watermelon, squash, and flowers for the residents to plant. Mama waters the plants every morning. When Carl saw the garden, he was so moved, he sat quietly in his wheelchair and cried.
“We are a family here,” said Mama regarding the memory care unit. And they are a family–one without all the resources needed to keep everyone healthy and safe, just like too many homes in our country and the world.
Nearly every day Mama tells me someone at in the memory care unit has fallen, someone has gone to the hospital, or someone has been taken to a nursing home. And though the facility has not yet been open a year, quite a few residents have died–which cannot be directly attributed to the lack of attentive and knowledgable care, but it is also true that two inexperienced, barely trained young women cannot in any real way meet the health and safety needs of 22 residents with Alzheimer’s or dementia which is the number currently in my father’s memory care unit.
Perhaps this facility is among the best such homes in Knoxville. But that doesn’t mean it is a safe place for all its residents to live, but more an indictment of the level of care that our state and federal regulations allow.
Because elder care is all about money, we are supposed to understand–bean counting, numbers, and so on. It is not really about quality of life for the oldest members of our society. I hope that these facilities get better as the large Baby Boomer generation enters their sunset years. If only it were so now . . . for Daddy and the other sweet, fragile women and most wheelchair-bound men who live in his “home”.
After the meeting, I hoped I would hear a bit of feedback to the questions asked, the issues raised. But there has been a yawning silence from the leadership of Daddy’s home. And no more family members’ meetings have been scheduled.
//Anna – 5/31/2016