I hope everyone reading this post has seen the film “Terms of Endearment” and that they recall the scene in the movie where Aurora, played by Shirley MacLaine, screams (in a really big way) at the nurse to give her daughter Emma, played by Debra Winger, a pain shot.
Aurora relays an emotion in the pain shot scene that I sometimes (actually quite often) feel at the nursing home. I cannot bear to see my Dad in pain or discomfort of any kind. All caregivers feel this way about their loved ones. Yet, these feelings are secondary when a family member moves into a nursing home. Due to Alzheimer’s disease, my Dad can no longer express himself. He is unable to get the attention of a nurses aide to ask to be taken to the bathroom, or insist a nurse give him something for an ache or pain he may have. So, his family is his voice now. We are the ones who find help for him when we know he needs it. But, what happens when the help we need is unavailable?
The nursing home where my Dad lives faces issues that I’m sure are quite similar to other skilled nursing facilities nationwide. One of those issues that I’ve observed is a shortage of staff. The phrase “we’re short-staffed today” is one I hear too many times to count. Because of this, I long to be a fly on the wall during a meeting between the home’s administrator and its controller; how interesting it would be to see where the budget cuts occur! You may find my fly on the wall desire strange, but if you experience the same staffing issues in your loved one’s nursing home that we do, you will undoubtedly share my wish to turn into a fly. Like my family, you will wonder why shifts are continuously short-staffed, and how this problem will affect the residents.
There are no good answers to these questions. The fact is, that when a nursing home is short-staffed, all the residents who live there suffer! How often do decisions about a nursing home’s profit – their bottom line – override those taken to make sure there is adequate care for the residents who live there? I am confident that if I asked any nursing home administrator or controller this question, he or she would initially laugh and then reply, “you just don’t understand what we have to deal with!”
Recently, I ran into a nurses aide that I hadn’t seen in a while. She told me that she is working at a neighboring hospital now, and occasionally works per diem at my Dad’s nursing home. Then, for some reason, she felt compelled to relay to me what the home was like back when she began working there. She described to me things that were no longer a part of the residents’ daily care. As she continued to speak, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I didn’t hold them back, I cried right in front of her, but quickly wiped away my tears so my Dad could not see them. When she saw this, she stopped reminiscing. She admitted to me that this was the reason she quit her job at the home – she could no longer stand to see people that she cared about deprived of things she believed they needed as part of their care. She knew that there was no way to regain that level of care again, and as much as it hurt her to leave the people that she thought of as family, she did.
I share this story with you to illustrate a point. If nursing homes continue to draw lines in the sand as it relates to profits versus the quality of their product (the care they offer), where does that leave the residents and their healthcare advocates? There are no easy answers, but our responsibility to ensure that humanity never takes a backseat to company profits is essential.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
– Mother Teresa