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Nursing Homes


Allen Polk Hemphill

This will not be a column about Princess Di, but rather about something far more important – Nursing Homes.

A few years ago, death was called the last taboo, the subject that people do not talk about. Give Dr. Kevorkian his due because it was he who put death on the front page. Today, most people know their mortality and address it with some reality. What most of us do not plan for, or do anything in advance for, is the possibility of our frailty and the need to at least examine the possibility of having to live in a facility where we are virtually helpless.

My wife and I have taken some of the responsibility for assisting a family friend of 30 years face this daunting problem for the past 18 months. As a result of a fall, she was transferred from a North County Hospital to a rehabilitation center that was one step above a hell hole. It was at this time that we discovered that we were named as her Durable Power of Attorney, and as soon as we could we had her transferred – but in the meanwhile we saw her overmedicated, underserved, and fed nothing that resembled food. We brought her food from Boston Market.

Because she could afford excellent care, and knew where she thought she wanted to go, we assisted her by arranging for her transfer, storing her belongings, and helping move her personal possessions. It was not long before we discovered that even the new facility, which was charging her $6,000 a month, had problems that were annoying her greatly, and we have helped her move again. She is happier now – not that there are not as many problems as before, but she is happier to only be spending $4,000 for the service.

After all on this, a few notes from our "Lessons Learned." All facilities we have seen are badly understaffed, and the floors are served by poorly paid and badly overworked nurses and aids. You would think that $4,000 - $6,000 a month would bring you great service, but you would be wrong and if you can afford it I would still advise you to hire your own assistant for at least 4 hours a day. The weekend staffs are particularly undertrained, understaffed and there is almost no weekend supervision. These facilities have highly paid CEOs and Comptrollers, but once you are a patient you will only see working mothers who hold two jobs at barely minimum wage trying to eke out a bare existence. It’s no that they are uncaring – they are tired and badly understaffed.

I have often mused whether it would be best to lose my mind first, or my body. The answer is perfectly clear now: I would like to lose my mind first. Our friend’s body is failing, but her mind is excellent, so she is continually bothered by the near Alzheimer’s patients who scream, or moan, or curse day and night, She is bothered by the slights of a badly paid staff who are accustomed to working with most patients who do not know and are beyond caring. She is bothered by a call light that is answered in five minutes, but only to be turned off while the nurse handles a more "important" call for an hour. She is bothered by male attendants who now deal with her most personal care, this is a result of feminist movement that opened primarily male professions to females, and concomitantly opened primarily female professions to males.

I urge everyone who is aging and may face the indignity of needing full custodial care to become active while you can in improving what can only be described as a poorly functioning system. Once you are inside the system, no one will pay you a bit of attention.

One other thing. Please visit with people you know in these facilities, however difficult that may be. They will get demonstrably better care if the staff knows that someone "out there" gives a damn. Write letters. Raise hell. Most of the patients are incapable of protesting, and if they complain are treated as dementia patients whether they are or not.


Send mail to allen@allenhemphill.com or dolphinrealty@earthlink.net with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Allen Hemphill
Last modified: August 13, 2012