Protecting your loved one in a nursing home

Bamundo Zwal & Schermerhorn, LLP

That unfortunate time has come. Your sick or elderly loved one can no longer care for themselves, and their needs are too great for you to properly meet. How do you pick a nursing home that will provide the necessary care? Once they are admitted to the nursing home, what can you do to make sure that they are safe and well cared for?

The answers to these questions are vital to the well being of your loved one. The statistics tell us the frightening truth. A recent federal government report found that the care given in more than 91 percent of nursing homes was deficient. The reasons for this are all too clear. More than half of all New York nursing homes are for profit. As a result, understaffing and poorly trained and underpaid staff are commonplace. Most of the daily care that is given is provided by poorly paid certified nursing assistants (CNAs) who only receive about 75 hours of training and licensed practical nurses who are each assigned 30 or more beds. Turnover rates for licensed nurses average approximately 45 percent per year and for CNA’s the rate is nearly 100 percent per year. After the first three months following admission, regular visits by a doctor are not required more than once every 60 days.

When you are selecting a home, there is much information that is readily available to the public, mostly through the NYS Department of Health. With regard to most nursing homes, you can obtain information on who owns the nursing home, whether it is for profit or a non-profit home, how long they have been in business, their licensure, deficiency survey reports, and even cost reports that show where the nursing home is spending its money.

Once they are in a nursing home, in order for your loved one to receive the best care possible in these facilities you must monitor the care they are receiving. There is no environment where it is more true that “the squeaky wheel gets the oil.” Here are some points to remember, which will improve the quality of care that your love one receives in a nursing home:

1. Communicate regularly with the nursing staff and the attending physician. Ensure to leave multiple telephone numbers where you can be reached. Be persistent if your call is not returned.

2. Talk to the families of other nursing home residents. This will immediately alert you to problem areas within the particular nursing home.

3. Never leave any valuables with your loved one in the facility. If the item has value, it is likely to be stolen or lost. If your loved one has a particular keepsake to which he or she is attached bring it with you when you visit and take it home when you leave for safekeeping.

4. Medication issues, including over medication and incorrect medication are common problems. If you don’t understand what has been ordered for your loved one, speak up and ask the nursing staff.

5. Monitor your love ones nutrition. Poor nutrition and dehydration are leading causes of health problems for residents of nursing homes. Follow your loved one’s weight records and their food and fluid intake. If they are experiencing weight loss for an extended period, request that a dietitian be consulted.

6. Participate in care planning conferences, which are held quarterly. If they are scheduled for a time where you are unable to attend, ask to participate via telephone conference. Prepare questions for the conference if you have any concerns, or send a list of concerns in advance.

7. If restraints are being used, make sure that the facility has tried other methods and that physical restraints are the last resort. As one might guess, physical restraints contribute to a decline in physical function and can actually cause injury.

Nursing homes are required by law to provide proper care. If, despite your efforts, your loved one is harmed by abuse or neglect in a nursing home, contact a lawyer who handles matters within the nursing home specialty. The nursing home laws encourage this, and specifically forbid retaliation against a resident who complains or takes legal action. As a practical matter, the care generally improves when action is taken.

The inescapable facts show us that we must be vigilant, speak up and take action when necessary to protect our loved ones and allow them to live with dignity. They deserve no less.

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