Health and Aging News, September 27, 2014
By Joan Aragone
HOW TO REPORT A THEFT OR OTHER INCIDENT IN LONG-TERM CARE
A woman recently called me to report the theft of a wedding ring from her 80-year-plus father as he slept at night in a nursing home in Contra Costa County, California. The man woke to find a member of the night staff pulling the jewelry from his finger, the daughter said, and even as her father struggled, the robber removed the ring and ran away.
“But nothing was done,” she said. “There were no witnesses, no security cameras to record any activity, and no inventory to prove he even had a ring.” The facility dismissed the family’s claim of theft and said the elderly man was demented. “Of course, he had a ring,” the woman said. “He had worn it for years.”
After calling various offices to express her frustrations, she eventually reached me, a writer who had covered nursing home care in the past. As my own friends and family are beginning to consider the realities of long-term care for themselves or their loved ones, I was happy to call some experts. Here’s what I learned:
Basics: When considering a long-term care facility, think “prevention.” Visit beforehand, more than once. Inspect the rooms for cleanliness, staff-to patient ratio, quality and quantity of food. And arrange for the protection of the valuables of the family member.
Report all incidents, but follow a protocol to insure your report goes to the right people.
Details: When someone enters a long-term care facility, including nursing homes, residential care facilities, and assisted living facilities, the family should keep and constantly update an inventory of everything the person brings, said Tippy Irwin, director of The Long Term Care Ombudsman Program of San Mateo County, California. (www.ossmc.org) “This includes jewelry, books, clothing– from underwear to shoes–even teeth. Take pictures, so that you have a record of what was there. With proof, the facility then can’t claim ‘dementia’ on the part of the victim who supposedly wrongly recalled.”
But once an incident occurs, the first call should be to the local police, said Prescott Cole, senior staff attorney for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), a non-profit advocacy group based in San Francisco. (www.canhr.org) And a report should be filed.
“The report is important. If the event did happen and there is no report, it will be repeated over and over. No report means a ‘green light,’ that it’s OK for a staff member to rip off a patient.”
Next, call the local Long-term Care Ombudsman Program, located by federal law in every state. The Ombudsman advocates for residents of long-term care facilities and investigates and attempts to resolve complaints. However, each state administers the program in its own way, so availability of regional offices may vary from state to state. In California, Ombudsman programs operate in every county, reporting to the state office in Sacramento. Go online and search for “ombudsman program, your county.”
However, Cole stressed, the ombudsman’s office has no police power. That’s why the family needs to file its own police report.
The family’s third call should be to the State Dept of Public Health, which licenses the facility. The following website will take you directly to the California Dept. of Public Health complaint form. Just fill it out: (http://hfcis.cdph.ca.gov/longtermcare/consumercomplaint.aspx) Search online for the office in your own state.
And finally, Cole said, the family should call their elected state representative.
Irwin and Cole urge families to thoroughly research facilities they’re considering. As last month’s Health and Aging News described, widely publicized Medicare ratings for nursing homes across the United States can be “gamed” by facilities that provide false information and otherwise mislead federal examiners. (See NYTimes story “Gaming Medicare ratings”), and state inspection agencies are often understaffed and lag on checking complaints.
Cole advises starting your search with a call for information and advice to the local Ombudsman office. In San Mateo County last year volunteers and staff in the Ombudsman program made 5,000 visits in their reviews. “That’s a lot,” Irwin said. The effective offices know the territory.
If possible, visit the facility in person. Check for security cameras. Some families have installed private cameras on their own, Irwin said. “Smell the place,” said Cole. Visit at different hours to check the staff-to-patient ratio. The ratio is important for facilities that receive federal funding, Cole said, but is easy to fudge on reports. And, importantly, visit often.
Unfortunately, problems in long-term care facilities occur in all geographical areas and price ranges in the USA. The Ombudsman program is meant to be the watchdog in these situations, but families must be vigilant by planning ahead and reporting problems quickly to the right places.
Going online: The CANHR website (www.canhr.org) provides detailed instruction on how and where to file a complaint, find suitable facilities, and learn about long-term care in general. For the long-term care ombudsman office in your county or area, google “long-term care ombudsman office, your county or your state.”
AARP STUDY RANKS QUALITY OF NURSING HOME CARE IN US
Forbes has reported on a comprehensive study by AARP on the quality of nursing home care in the United States, with rankings by state. To view the study, go online and google “The Best and Worst States for Long-Term Care – Forbes.” But all stories on rankings should be read with a jaded eye. Remember the NYT story on “gaming the system.”
FRAUD PREVENTION SEMINAR IN SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO
Check out a free fraud-prevention seminar Monday, September 29, from 9-11 a.m., South San Francisco Municipal Services Building, Social Hall, 33 Arroyo Drive, South San Francisco. Representatives from the South San Francisco PD, Bureau of Automotive Repair, Contractors State License Board, and California Public Utilities Commission will discuss scams and give safety and reporting tips. For more information and to RSVP, call 650-349-2200.
FREE TALK ON PRIVACY LAWS AND RIGHTS OF FAMILIES SEPT. 30
Geriatric specialist Elizabeth Landsverk, M.D., will speak on “HIPAA and Dementia: What Do You Mean I Can’t See The Records?” an examination of patient-privacy records and the rights of family members, Tuesday, September 30, 6:30 p.m., Pacific Gardens, 2384 Pacific Drive, Santa Clara. Free. Seating limited. RSVP: 408-985-5252.
SUPPORT MEALS ON WHEELS OCT. 10
Dine out in selected restaurants around the San Francisco Peninsula Tuesday, Oct. 14, and 10 percent of the proceeds will go to Peninsula Volunteers Meals On Wheels program. For a list of participating restaurants see www.penvol.org or call 650-326-0665.
“ALIVE INSIDE” — MUSIC’S EFFECT ON ALZHEIMER’S PATIENTS
Watch the official trailer and other selections from “Alive Inside,” a joyous and moving documentary that won the Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Festival. Elderly patients with Alzheimer’s Disease awake from years of isolation through hearing music on an IPod. With Dr. Oliver Sacks. Search online for: “Alive Inside,” official trailer, YouTube.”