In a previous post, I wrote of state & federal government agencies that family members can report suspected cases of Massachusetts nursing home neglect or abuse to. While you can & should copy the contact information for several agencies that are outlined in that previous post, I don’t want readers to get a false sense of security about the existence of these agencies. The sad and disturbing reality is that the families and loved ones of nursing home residents must be their own ‘first-line watchdogs,’ and serve as the primary point of monitoring the care of their loved one who is living in a nursing home. Government agencies, whether state or federal, are simply too-thinly staffed, too over-worked, and in some instances, simply too inattentive, or incompetent, to protect Massachusetts nursing home residents from abuse & neglect. It’s just one of the sad-but-true realities of the nursing home industry.
In today’s post, I want to offer some suggestions as to what family members can do to minimize the chances that their loved one will become the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect.
- First, family members and other visitors should never be ‘stealth visitors’ – they should make their presence known often to nursing staff and support staff. Never doing so, sends a signal to those staffers that the family member(s) aren’t really paying attention to their loved one’s care. That’s a bad move: If the nursing home staff gets this message, it will inevitably lead to less care and attention being paid to that patient.
- Family members should schedule periodic, regular meetings with the facility’s Medical Director, Nursing Director, and senior floor staff – making it clear that they are watching the level of care that their loved one is receiving. These meetings needn’t be adversarial or ‘threatening,’ simply make clear that you’re not someone who is passive, entirely trusting your loved one’s care to the facility.
- Importantly, aside from being a timid person who rarely speaks up, family members should never make a habit of making their visits predictable to staff: In other words, if visiting patterns are repeated regularly, the staff will soon learn that they can “clean things up” with your loved just prior to your arrival, so that you receive the impression that your family member is being well cared for – when that may not be the case, at all. This is especially important, because many nursing home residents can’t tell you if they’re being neglected – and if an inattentive staff are prone to neglect your loved one – you may never know. Therefore, as much as possible, vary the days and times that you arrive, so that staff can never really predict when you’ll ‘show up.’
- Critically important, family members, whether just one or several – should keep a “Care and Wellness Log Book” at the patient’s bedside, making detailed handwritten entries of conditions that family members are observing and recording in this log book. Ideally, there should be separate columns in the log for Date, Family Member’s Name, Condition Observed, Action Taken. Log entries should always be made in the family members’ handwriting, and signed or initialed by that person. This produces two important results: A) It broadcasts to the junior-level staff – who are the employees that are in patients’ rooms regularly – that the care level of this patient is being carefully watched and monitored by family members. Very importantly, these junior-level staff members are not the senior nursing staff – in 95% of Massachusetts nursing facilities, they aren’t even RN’s. At best, they’re LPN’s or “Health Aides.” Translation: Sadly, most of these people are low-skilled, low-wage workers, who do the very unpleasant work of changing diapers, changing bed sheets, emptying bed pans, and feeding patients. It isn’t easy work, and substandard patient care can easily follow. B) Handwritten notes evidence first-hand observation by the family members, and can’t be altered by facility staff. This is important if a lawsuit alleging nursing home negligent care or abuse needs to be brought.
I know that the above suggestions are very detailed, but trust me, as a Massachusetts Nursing Home Neglect Lawyer who has seen far too many cases of nursing home abuse and neglect, I know what I’m talking about.
In my next post, I’ll talk about warning signs to look for with nursing home neglect or abuse. In the meantime, if you or someone you know has a family member or loved one who you feel is the victim of nursing home neglect or abuse, contact a very experienced Massachusetts Nursing Home Neglect Attorney. I do not recommend that people consult with a General Practice lawyer, who does not specialize in litigating these cases. Proven experience and a track record of success are critical to producing positive results in these types of cases.