Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Families Against Nursing Home Abuse - Our First Letter

Mom was 1 of 15 known abused at a Nursing Home for a period of at least 5 months. I represent Families Against Nursing Home Abuse. We are the families of the 15. We are asking you to please hear us as we speak with you about Long Term Care.

I feel that this subject is so incredibly important, since it not only affects those already in long term care, but it affects my friends who are looking at going into long term care facilities within the next 10 years. It affects my going into a long term care facility within the next 25 years, and it affects my children, when it is their turn. Not only that, but it effects you, when it is YOUR turn to go into a long term care facility.

When people asked me why this is so important, I used to say, “Because the average American has 2 options. Grow old and more likely then not, end up in a nursing home, or don’t grow old.”

I cannot begin to tell you how much I believe in the idea AND the reality, that Long Term Care needs to be the center of change. Right now our laws are 40 years behind any other. All of the laws that apply to abuse of children, spouses, mentally challenged, physically challenged, and the laws that apply to any sort of sexual abuse, do NOT apply to the elderly. How did this happen? Why did we forget that our parents and our loved ones, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and yes….even our children who need to go into long term care facilities, are just as important as any other living human being?

Mom, was a woman of extraordinary character. She lived a quiet and simple life. She grew up, went to work, married, raised a family, and then became ill with Alzheimer’s. What made her extraordinary was her ability to find the good in everyone that she met. You or I may have been able to find nothing good in or about a certain person, but Mom would have. She would have found a reason to say something nice about that person. Her ability to open her heart to any and all that came into, or passed through her life, was also extraordinary. The impression she left on people after only one meeting, was astounding.

Mom’s last years of life were going to be tough enough battling the Alzheimer’s, but having her dignity ripped from her day after day by abuse is just unthinkable. Each day that I think of it, it rips my heart out……realizing each day that Mom will have absolutely no justice, it too, rips my heart out. I am trying with all my strength to accept it, but it is a bitter pill to swallow, and my heart breaks.

I cannot express to you the heartbreak of being left helpless at every turn. Mom deserved so much better. The laws should have protected her. Instead they forgot her. The justice system should have seen to it that her abusers were punished. Instead, they are letting her abusers off with less then a slap on the wrist. The government that she so loyally voted for, and supported has been of no help. Thus far, few have ever heard of our situation nor are inclined to help.

In Mom’s last year, she was unable to defend herself. She was unable to articulate how her dignity was being stripped from her daily. She was unable to make us understand that her combativeness was not a disease, but a desperate cry for help. God forgive us all for not paying attention.

Right now we have laws about finances, laws about family caregivers, but nothing that protects the elderly from the people and institutions of nursing homes that can and do inflict abuse, neglect and death.

When I found out that laws concerning elderly people in Mom’s situation basically did nothing in the realms of accountability and consequence, I were devastated. My dear Lord! “Why are Michael Vicks DOGS more important then Grace!?”

I ask you to consider also, why are the laws for the elderly not as important as the laws for animals? Why is it considered asking to much to have the nursing home, the administrators, and the staff, held accountable for their actions, or lack of, in their facility?

To long have Long Term Care Facilities been allowed to over look bad behavior. To long have they been allowed to sweep aside any responsibility for what staff has done to degrade, humiliate, and disrespect residents. To long has an abuser been fired from one nursing home, only to be hired at the nursing home down the street. To long has the changing of records, and the lack of reporting gone on, so that a facility may make itself appear far better then it actually is.

Policy, procedure and laws MUST be put into place to safe-guard the ELDERLY, not just their money. Things like mandatory video monitoring, mandatory reporting of ALL physical ailments of residents, and mandatory reporting of all disciplinary actions of staff. Sexual Predator Registration for those convicted of sexual abuse. Above all, ZERO Tolerance of any form of abuse, be it physical, mental, emotional, or sexual. All of these forms of abuse to a vulnerable adult are the same as abuse to a child. Conviction of any of these crimes should make it mandatory that they NOT be allowed to work in any health care profession again.

We need to teach law enforcement how to investigate these crimes so that accountability means far more then, “no no. Not nice.” There ARE experts in the field of Elder Sex Crimes, and Elder Abuse, who can train our local law enforcements how to investigate, charge, and convict these horrendous crimes. As I speak to you, there are training programs being developed to ensure that our attorneys and prosecutors will be fully trained in how to use the investigators and the laws in order to convict all predators to fullest extent of the felony laws.

Statistics say, currently for every 1 report of abuse, there are 5 left unreported. If statistics prove correct, this facility has had a possibility of at LEAST 75 cases of abuse in 2008. Is this an acceptable number?

Please have the same zero tolerance for Elder Abuse as you have for child abuse, spousal abuse, sexual abuse, and animal abuse. Elder/Vulnerable Adult laws should parallel those of Child Abuse, or any other abuse that is no longer tolerated. Please remember your loved ones who can no longer articulate their needs. Please remember that this will affect ALL of us sooner or later. New laws, new policies, and new procedures MUST be put into place to hold the owners, administrators, and staff accountable for their actions.

I ask you to call your legislators. Ask them to help in writing and introducing legislation that will truly help those vulnerable adults who can no longer defend themselves against those who would take power and control over them in order to inflict pain, humiliation and sexual aggression.

At this moment in time, I am so frustrated, disappointed and unable to understand how it is that the entire country, politicians, and leaders of our states and country are all appalled at the situation, but no one is willing to actually DO something about it. Do they not understand that one day, they too, will be in a nursing home? Do they think so little of our elderly and of themselves that they will not ensure a safe future for the elderly now, and for themselves to come? How do we get someone to take up the fight and actually write laws that actually protect our elderly and punish the perpetrator?

Yes, there are new laws being introduced in Minnesota. But has anyone really looked at them? They do nothing for the residents of nursing homes. They simply say a family member is not allowed to neglect or take money from a vulnerable adult. Why can’t a bill be introduced to make the kind of mental, physical, emotional and sexual abuse/assault that vulnerable adults endure every day, in virtually every nursing home in America, be a felony in the Vulnerable Adult Act? I don’t understand what makes that so hard to do.

Now, ask me why is this so important to me? Because, for 21 years, I was blessed with knowing a woman of extraordinary character. Because I promised her on her death bed that I would not let what happened to her and the 14 known others happen to anyone else. And now, because while there will be no justice for Mom, the other 14, and all who endured this horror before them, I will honor her and all the others who went through this horrendous ordeal in the best manner possible; with laws that will protect all vulnerable adults. And because there are 14 other victims at this moment in time who were just as extraordinary to their families as Mom was to ours.

Written April 11, 2009

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