The phone calls keep coming. Frequently the callers are angry. Often they’re crying.
Time and again they use “horrific” to describe the conditions of nursing homes where they’ve placed loved ones in the past or lived themselves. One man says he can share “things that’ll curl your hair, and you can write a book, not just a newspaper story.”
They are calling in the wake of last week’s Review-Journal story dealing with a report that found mistreatment of nursing home residents is widespread in Nevada, the only state where every nursing home was found to have deficiencies.
That piece told of bed sores being commonplace, that residents suffer from dehydration, malnutrition and fall injuries. One resident died after not having a bowel movement for days. Another died after being sent home when skilled nursing care was still needed.
Brian Lee, head of Florida-based Families for Better Care, a nonprofit advocacy group that authored the report, was blunt: “Nevada represents what’s terribly wrong with nursing home care and oversight in America.”
The callers who’ve lived there or sent loved ones to nursing homes all agree with Lee, painting a picture of the nursing home industry as far more akin to warehousing than nursing, where they say even the most basic service –– keeping residents from lying for hours in their own waste –– is frequently not delivered.
One woman calls to say her ex-husband was the unidentified man mentioned in the story who fell off the commode when a nursing assistant insisted on taking a break even though she knew he was at high risk of falling. Her ex died a few days later.
Lawyers also call, telling me they’ve been successful in lawsuits against nursing homes.
Daniel Mathis, a spokesman for the Nevada Health Care Association, a nursing home industry trade group, phones to say that “Nevada’s nursing homes are better than they were.”
Unlike Lee, Mathis isn’t quick to blame Nevada’s lack of staffing-ratio regulations in nursing homes for patient neglect.
Mathis argues the shortage of direct care given to Nevada nursing home residents –– at about two hours a day it’s nearly an hour and a half less than that provided in Alaska –– often occurs because of caregiver turnover or caregivers calling in sick.
A man identifying himself as a nursing assistant, the front-line job most responsible for keeping patients clean, calls to say a huge problem in nursing homes is turnover that often leaves a home short-staffed. “But what can you expect,” he says, “when you do such hard work and no matter how hard you work you can’t keep up because there’s not enough people? When you start at $10 an hour it’s no wonder everybody leaves just for another dollar.”
Another call comes from licensed practical nurse Lynn Ryan. Now working for an area urgent care group, she says she quit at a local nursing home because she “couldn’t stand it … it was just horrible how residents were treated.”
We meet at a Starbucks. She talks about a roach-infested nursing home where doctors’ orders weren’t followed, where residents sit for hours in excrement, where a caregiver calls a resident a “(expletive) whore.”
Neither administrators nor authorities acted on her complaints, she says.
Ryan is convinced nothing will be done to change the nursing home industry until there is a sustained outcry by Americans –– making politicians think they’d lose elections if changes aren’t made.
To think monied power brokers or top politicians will fight for a caregiver staffing ratio in the best interest of residents simply because of news stories is unrealistic, she says. Keep in mind, she says, the nursing home industry has deep pockets to influence politicians against resident-friendly caregiver ratios.
“Top politicians and others with money don’t care about nursing homes,” Ryan says. “They can afford around-the-clock private nursing care for loved ones.”
Without people speaking out against nursing home treatment consistently, she says, then nursing home operators can continue to do what they’ve done for years, ignore bad publicity and place profits over people by keeping staffing down. (For the past 10 years, publicly traded nursing home stock prices increased an average of 415 percent, outpacing the stock market by a 2-1 margin.)
“Baby boomers making waves with loved ones in nursing homes would draw the most attention,” she says.
But she doubts that’ll happen consistently.
“They’re afraid to ruffle feathers because they fear their loved one will get kicked out of the nursing home,” Ryan says. “I’ve seen that happen. Remember insurance only allows them to use certain places and these are people unable to take care of loved ones at home because of medical or financial reasons. Basically they bite the bullet.”
And let their loved ones take it.
Ryan says, however, that boomers, many now in their 60s, should think twice before keeping quiet.
“They need to remember they’re next up to be abused.”
Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.