It seems like we’ve been discussing a lot of incidents at assisted living facilities recently. Certainly, it’s not because we’ve run out of nursing home topics. The prevailing discussion is primarily due to the expansion of the role that assisted living facilities in the senior care market. Today, the emergence of assisted living facilities is a double digit growth industry for the senior care market due to a convergence of several factors including: a rapidly growing senior population, the insane cost of care at skilled nursing homes and a prevailing backlash towards institutional facilities.
Some assisted living facilities (ALF’s) are indeed amazing examples of how senior should be spending their ‘golden years’ with immaculate surroundings, attentive staff and really inspirational programs. For physically active and mentally alert seniors these facilities truly are an opportunity that simply may not have existed 10 or 20 years ago. Realistically, for each picturesque senior sitting in a club house lobby sipping coffee and taking water aerobic classes, there is a different contingent of seniors who simply can not do so due to physical and in come cases, mental limitations. For these seniors with additional care needs, an assisted living facility may simply not be the proper setting.
Determining the appropriate type of facility and necessary level of care is indeed a very personal decision and one that should not be minimized. However, when it comes to admitting a resident, the facility is really the party that has the ultimate say. By accepting a new patient— or for that matter, continuing to car for a patient implies that the facility is indeed willing and capable of taking on this responsibility. When — and if the time comes– the facility is no longer capable of providing necessary care for a patient, it is essential that the facility comes forth and advises the resident and his family of the necessary change.
Yet too many ALF’s continue to ‘hold on’ to existing residents who’s physical and metal abilities may have deteriorated to the point that they may be more appropriately care for in a facility that provides a higher level of assistance. Yet again I was reminded about the ‘hold on’ mentality of many ALF’s when I read about a patient wandering episode at an ALF in Ohio. The situation involved an 84-year-old resident with noted ‘wandering tendencies’ who wandered from the facility without the knowledge of facility staff. Hours after the woman left the facility, she was found dead in the parking lot of the facility due to exposure to the cold (hypothermia).
Not surprisingly, an investigation into the incident revealed that the facility was both under-staffed and had broken door alarms at the time of the incident. At the time of the patient’s elopement, it was revealed that there was just one resident-care assistant on duty who was responsible for caring an entire building of residents. Equally disturbing was the fact that the investigation revealed that shortly before this incident, another patient wandered from the facility without the knowledge of facility staff.
A duty to safely care for residents
Regulations aside, when assisted living facilities take on the responsibility of caring for a resident– they better do it right. In particular, some assisted living facilities have created a niche for themselves by holding themselves out as facilities that can provide specialized care for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. In these cases, it is essential that these facilities really have specialized program and caregivers to ensure the safety of this extremely vulnerable group. As a family member, there’s nothing more important that asking specific questions about the specifics of the care that the facility alludes to provide. However– without a doubt– ask the facility what their policy is for transitioning patients to skilled nursing facilities when they have outgrown the capabilities of the ALF. If there’s a blank stare or silence– it’s time to find an alternative facility.
For laws related to Ohio nursing homes, look here.