I think it’s pretty disgusting, personally.
No doubt there are crummy nursing homes out there where residents are left hour after hour without being turned, in the process developing ghastly bedsores.
No doubt there are facilities so understaffed that residents finally end up trying to transfer themselves to or from the toilet without help, and wind up hurting themselves in falls.
No doubt there are places where cries of pain from an arthritic hip or infected catheter are ignored by indifferent nurses.
True all true, and something must be done about such facilities. But there is another side to this story. Here it is, in a nutshell.
Not even the nicest nursing homes can afford to watch residents 24x7. Yet, at least in Wisconsin, there are strict laws against doing everything possible to protect them from themselves.
That means that occasional falls are almost inevitable. Some residents forget that they can no longer walk, and try to make it to the bathroom on foot. Others are too proud to use their walkers or wheelchairs, or are in too much of a hurry. Too often, blood flows and bones are broken, and it has much more to do with Big Brother legislating against "constraints" than it does with neglect on the part of the home.
There will be other mishaps as well. Some residents will fall out of bed, for instance. The best Wisconsin facilities are allowed to do is to lower the bed almost to the floor and stretch pads alongside the bed to catch a fall. Protective rails are not allowed, you see, until the resident has actually hurt himself or herself without them; the State of Wisconsin considers that unreasonable restraint, or whatever the proper government lingo is this week.
Ditto for seat belts in wheelchairs. Oh, sure, a resident who is likely to try to ambulate can be fitted with an alarm, but consider what happens if he or she decides to take a little walk: By the time anyone could get to him to prevent a fall, it may already be too late.
I know about this sort of regulation from first-hand experience. My mother had a seizure disorder and begged for side rails on her bed. The State of Wisconsin, in its infinite wisdom, said no, not until you've hurt herself. Case closed.
There are other problems that are almost unavoidable when you’re caring for the fragile elderly. For instance, some simply can’t explain where it hurts; many others can’t even explain THAT it hurts. And some people are going to get bed sores no matter how frequently they’re turned.
That’s not to excuse any sort of abuse or neglect. If you have a loved one in a nursing home, you really need to keep a sharp eye on him or her, dropping in frequently and unexpectedly whenever possible. You need to speak up if you find the care lacking, or the hygiene, or if you think there are medication issues that need to be addressed immediately.
But we also need to keep our expectations realistic – and do a thorough job of vetting each candidate facility before investing the first day or dime in one.
In my opinion, these lawsuits are going to do nothing but drive up nursing-home costs at the same time that Medicaid and Title 19 reimbursements are plummeting. I imagine that some more homes will be forced to close in the not-so-distant future. And this is all happening just as aging Baby Boomers are causing the elderly population to swell. Bottom line: More demand, less supply, with the cost of beds designated for private-payers (those who subsidize the Title 19 residents) skyrocketing beyond the reach of the average person.
It’s an ugly situation however you look at it, and these lawsuits are not helping anyone but the lawyers who bring them.