I recently settled a nursing home negligence case. They're disturbing, not just because of the treatment that our elderly receive, but because they forced me to think about aging, dying, and our responsibilities to our parents. Here are some of my takeaways.
1. Nursing Home cases are difficult and complicated. You're trying to prove that negligence caused medical problems. But almost all nursing home patients have lots of health problems already. Some are nearing the end of their life, regardless of the care they receive. There were over 6000 pages of medical records to review in this recent case, many of them indecipherable. Taking them on takes meticulous attention to detail.
2. Everyone, regardless of their age, is entitled to their dignity. As we age and our bodies fail we grow accustomed to certain losses of our independence, and consequently, some of our pride. When I look at these cases I am struck by the absolute truth that the same will happen to me and most of the people I know. And yet, we are all entitled to basic human dignity as we age and die. To my way of thinking, that's the most important things that nursing homes can provide. When they fail, the loss hits everyone.
3. At some point, most of us will have to put our parents in a nursing home - and there's nothing wrong with that. Looking through these records you realize just how much care and expertise it takes to care for the elderly. Most of us would not be equipped to handle it. Medications, frequent MD appointments, personal care. . . most families are simply not equipped to handle it. And yet, it makes the decision to place our loved ones in care no less anguishing. If they are harmed in nursing home care, there is even more guilt involved. I think that the best we can hope for is to make sure that once our loved ones are in care we remain their guardians. Caring and supportive. Making sure they are not lonely. Connecting them to their past. And, remaining vigilant against carelessness.
4. As a society, we have work to do. Our nursing home facilities vary widely in quality from one place to another. Most of us have no insurance to cover better accommodations. The government regulates facilities but really does little to enforce standards. Most for profit homes can't afford to pay the right people - or enough people - and they are perpetually understaffed. I've come to the conclusion that we would be better off as a society if the government took over these functions. After all, Medicare and Medicaid pay for virtually all of this care anyway. That money could be put to better use it was going for care, not for the profit margins of the nursing home.
5. Be a bulldog. The best way to protect your loved ones is to complain. I hate to say it, but it's true. Send a clear message to care providers that you are watching. That you care. That you will hold them accountable for their failures - and at the same time praising them when they do a good job. Your family is safer when you are involved.
Bonus Lesson: when all of the above fail, and something bad happens, call me.