The Daily Herald, recently had an article on growing part of the nursing home population– young nursing home residents. Most of the younger people in nursing homes are admitted to the facilities, not for nursing care, but because there are few alternatives for people with mental illness. The number of younger nursing home residents with mental illness has increased 41% in the past six years. Currently, young residents (ages 22 to 64) make up more than 9% of the nations nursing home residents.
Many of these younger residents suffer from conditions such as: schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder which can make them difficult to control. States are responsible for assessing each young nursing home resident in making the determination if they require the high level of care that nursing homes provide. This determination is essential, because federal law bars the mentally ill from entering the facilities unless the individual has been determined to require the level of care provided in a nursing home setting.
“Sadly we’re seeing the tragic results of federal and state governments to provide appropriate treatment and housing for those with mental illness and to provide a safe environment for the frail elderly,” says Janel Well, director of public policy for the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform.
Many nursing home workers accustomed to caring for more ‘typical’ residents are not prepared to care for the younger residents who are more likely to behave aggressively. Killings and mental assaults committed by the mentally ill against the elderly in nursing homes have become more prominent as the younger portion of the nursing home residents continue to expand. Among the crimes cited by the Daily Herald:
- In 2003, a 23-year-old woman in Connecticut was charged with starting a fire that killed 16 fellow patients at her Hartford nursing home. A court guardian said Leslie Andino suffered from multiple sclerosis, dementia and depression. She was found incompetent to stand trial and committed to a mental institution.
- In 2006, 77-year-old Norbert Konwin died at a South Toledo, Ohio, nursing home 10 days after authorities said his 62-year-old roommate beat him with a bathroom towel bar. Sharon John Hawkins was found incompetent to stand trial.
- In January, a 21-year-old man diagnosed with bipolar disorder with aggression was charged with raping a 69-year-old fellow patient at their nursing home in Elgin, near Chicago. A state review found that Christopher Shelton was admitted to the nursing home despite a history of violence and was left unsupervised even after he told staff he was sexually frustrated.
- On May 30, 2008 Ivory Jackson was beaten to death with a clock radio by his roommate, Solomon Owasanoye– a man with history of violent behavior and more than 20 years Jackson’s junior. Owasanoye pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, and after a psychiatric review was ruled unfit to stand trial. He now lives in a state mental hospital.
Pat Willis of the Center for Prevention of Abuse says that younger, aggressive residents are terrifying elderly residents. “The senior residents are afraid,” Willis said. “They would prefer to sit in their rooms and keep their doors shut.”
Given the lack of alternative care for younger people with mental illness, the reality is that it is unlikely that younger residents will be leaving nursing homes across the country anytime soon. Nonetheless, federal law guarantees nursing home residents can have a safe environment. In order to promote safety, residents and their families should keep in mind the following:
- Does you nursing home accept younger nursing home residents with mental illness?
- What is the facilities policy with respect to housing these individuals?
- Are younger residents allowing to live amongst older nursing home residents?
- Does the facility train its staff to handle individuals with mental illness?
- Does the facility have a psychiatrist or other mental health professionals on staff?
For laws related to Ohio nursing homes, look here.
Related News Article:
Illinois nursing homes tops in younger mentally ill, Daily Herald, 3/19/09
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