Point of View

The ills of elder care

September 15, 2012 

I’ve spent the past two years caring for my parents, moving them nearer to me, selling their house, distributing their property, seeing to their financial affairs and, above all, advocating for their health care and lodging.

Luckily, I am self-employed and was in a position to close my business and provide the hours of time necessary to this process. After two years of one crisis after another, both my parents have died. As I sorted through the mounds of paper generated over this period of time, I realized that my parents had suffered neglect, so I went through official channels to register complaints regarding the poor care they received at a hospital, an assisted living facility and a skilled-care nursing home.

The official responses I’ve received indicate that while the events were unfortunate, the institutions “followed proper protocol” or that there was “insufficient evidence” to follow through on my complaints.

I am outraged and astounded that the events I described to these various agencies are considered standard levels of care. I could write a book outlining the trauma we all suffered, but the short version of the major outrages is as follows:

My father was found in feces a half dozen times; I found piles of dried, filthy clothes in his shower on three occasions and hand- and footprints of feces on his walls and carpet.

My father yelled in pain as he was shoehorned into my car by three emergency room nurses after being denied hospital admission following a fall that broke his shoulder. He was returned to assisted living, even though the staff of the assisted living facility protested to the doctor and social worker that they weren’t equipped for his care. Medicare doesn’t cover skilled-nursing care unless a person has been hospitalized three days.

Dad was found unconscious in his room 36 hours later due to internal bleeding caused by a broken rib which punctured his lung. He was then hospitalized and died from complications two weeks later.

My mother developed a black spot on her foot which the doctor and head nurse insisted was a badly-trimmed toenail with a blood blister. She cried in pain and wasn’t given sufficient pain medicine. She died four weeks later, after watching the gangrene crawl up her leg.

The attorney for assisted living says Dad received standard care. The governing board of the hospital says its ER staff followed proper protocol. Health and Human Services says my complaint of nursing home neglect is unsubstantiated.

This is considered routine health care for elders, yet politicians are determined to cut back still further.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard elderly people say, “I never thought I would live this long.” I challenge every politician to seek satisfactory, reasonable care for his own loved ones using Medicare benefits. Once Medicare skilled-nursing coverage is exhausted and life savings and house equity is used up, let them advocate for the care their parents deserve. It will be quite eye-opening.

Politicians and officials should be ashamed each and every single day that this shoddy level of care is accepted as normal. They are spending money, time and energy demanding cutbacks to what is already inadequate. They should be working to honor our elderly and ensure that they get the compassionate care they deserve in the last days of their productive lives.

Janine Maves is an artist in Raleigh.

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