"Five Minutes With..." Bill Keane on the Future of Nursing Homes
|Bill Keane is the
Director of Dementia Services at the Mather Institute on Aging (affiliated with Mather LifeWays retirement
communities). He is also a member of the Board of Directors at the Pioneer Network, an organization
dedicated to stimulating a positive culture of aging in America, including the
transformation of nursing homes.
(1) With all of this bad publicity about nursing homes, should families be concerned about placing a loved one?
If you monitor the national media, over and over again you will see horrific stories of neglect, abuse and poor care in Americas nursing homes. Its getting worse. Its a reflection of the labor shortage, but there are other complex issues affecting quality. Its going to be a problem that continues to grow. The typical jaded nursing home administrator says that low reimbursement and regulation are to blame. But the fact is that youre not going to ensure quality simply through regulations, reimbursement or more stringent background checks.
It takes stronger leadership, better management, and a real sense of mission in working with elders to reduce, minimize and eliminate crises of care, abuse, and neglect. The horror stories are not related to the economy, but to the values of our society.
Families should be concerned because the protections that they take for granted are not necessarily there. Regulations have not solved the problem, in part due to inadequate enforcement. Families especially today need to be concerned because of the weak enforcement on regulations in many states, and the very thin regulation in assisted living. Facilities arent necessarily managing issues of aging in place and transition as effectively.
(2) Why are we hearing about all of these horror stories now?
Sometimes I wonder if it is because the media is having a slow news day. But on the other hand, the media is getting better at exposing these crises. Some of the huge lawsuits that have come out have created a lot of the tension. A recent issue of The National Law Journal listed major jury verdicts in 2001. Nursing homes were at the top of the heap with several heavy fines of $20 million or more. The courts fined one nursing home $312 million in damages for the death of a resident in a Texas facility.
(3) How can families ensure the best quality care for their loved ones?
Much has been said and written on this. I will speak both from my personal experiences and from my position as a professional.
First and foremost, families need to be part of the assessment and care planning process [that is devised when the elder moves into the nursing home]. The care plan becomes their contract document with the facility. It can be used as a way of monitoring care and ensuring that their loved one gets all of the services they are entitled to. The care plan is updated every 6 months or when the elders health status changes.
Next, if you really tell families how and when to go shopping for good residential services, you are giving them the kinds of tools that they need to do a better job of monitoring their loved ones care.
Other suggestions include:
(4) What is the future like for nursing homes?
I used to joke about investing in a bulldozer company to bulldoze all 18,000 nursing homes. Our current facilities were built on an archaic system with depersonalizing and inhuman environments. Many people feel that the system is hopelessly bankrupt.
I believe that the experience of holistic good care is based on a three-legged stool of comfortable physical environments, rich programming, and caring staff. The nursing homes that have the right kind of leadership will survive and thrive whether they have the perfect physical plant or not.
We need to create ways of living and working together different from the traditional models. Groups like the Pioneer Network support models where elders live in open, diverse, caring communities. Were working for deep system change by both evolutionary and revolutionary means, using Pioneer values and principles as the foundations for change.
Going forward, Baby Boomers will not tolerate an environment of care where nursing homes are forever tied to passing the survey. The best thing that is going on is that Boomers are getting in touch with these issues. They are better consumers. Its going to be a very unsettled time, as it should be. We have too many bad apples that are getting too much attention.
We need to encourage a change in the individual's and society's attitudes toward aging and elders; change in elders' attitudes towards themselves and their aging; and change in the attitudes and behavior of caregivers toward those for whom they care.
(5) How can busy caregivers make a difference NOW?
If youre an active caregiver, thats where you can
make a difference. Rome wasnt built in a day. Changing the culture is a process that
evolves over time. Stay focused. Write off small pieces one at a time because thats
how it grows. Keep the balance and focus in your day to day life.
Available from ElderCare Online www.ec-online.net ©2002 Prism Innovations, Inc.