Caregivers shared horror stories on their experiences with nursing home facilities with a task force studying issues of quality of care in such facilities.
A lack of accountability and transparency were the two main concerns expressed at the Ohio Governor’s Nursing Home Quality and Accountability Task Force forum held Tuesday at the Wood County Senior Center.
“Being given the opportunity to host this task force is huge,” said Denise Niese, executive director of the Wood County Committee on Aging, “because Northwest Ohio needs to be represented at these listening sessions.”
She said based on the 2020 census, there were 35,000 residents in Wood County over the age of 60.
In Ohio, 2.8 million citizens are over the age of 65 – the sixth largest population in the nation, said Ursel J. McElroy, director of the Ohio Department of Aging.
More than 100 people representing caregivers, residents, nursing facility administrators, and support organizations attended Tuesday’s two-hour discussion.
Gov. Mike DeWine stopped in briefly after his tour of Conneaut Elementary but did not address the crowd.
Small groups discussed the issues of selecting a nursing home, and the admission process, their experiences good or bad with the facility, the transition to care, and engaging the nursing home system which included submitting a complaint.
Dr. John M. Weigand, medical director at the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Aging, asked that comments be made on sticky notes so facilitators can see the issues that needed to be addressed.
One woman said the hospital gave her family 24 hours to find a place for her mother, who was 94 at the time, because she could no longer pay for her care.
“It’s a nightmare,” she said.
The nursing home that the family found was grossly understaffed, and the facility was using COVID as an excuse, she said.
“We supplemented their staffing as a family,” she said. “It was horrible.”
Another person said people need to be aware of what insurance will cover and what it won’t and that discharge planning has to start the second your loved one is admitted to a hospital.
An issue heard time and again was how complaints disappeared and the state favored the nursing home and not the residents.
One person said she went through four departments before being able to lodge a complaint.
“I just want to be a daughter,” she said about the process.
“There’s got to be a way for the state to have one place to lodge a complaint,” she said.
If a complaint isn’t charted in the facility, administrators can deny it happened, and the complaint often disappears once an appeal is filed.
A man in the audience said he was told an abuse complaint couldn’t be substantiated, even though he had it on camera.
“I can assure you that we as a task force work very hard to take these insights and put them into an actionable plan,” McElroy said.
After the event, McElroy said that the task force wants to keep residents at the center of its work.
Each time a forum is held, they learn something new, McElroy said, and it is incredible how different these experiences are.
“I always walk away with an ‘oh my, there’s an opportunity,’” she said.
McElroy said she was especially touched by the woman who said she just wanted to be a daughter, not an expert in this.
“There are a lot of people who are hurting right now and we have to operate with a sense of purpose and urgency to address that,” McElroy said.
“The only way to fix the broken nursing home system in our state is to increase care hours, hire more staff, and pay a living wage, and respect staff enough to work with them to create sustainable solutions. The governor’s task force needs to prioritize listening to what the individuals who provide care in Ohio’s nursing homes need now, or our loved one’s care will continue to suffer,” said Becky Williams, president of SEIU 1199 WV/KY/OH.
Union members attended the forum.
There are opportunities to improve efficiency and access, McElroy said.
Niese said the Wood County Committee on Aging does offer assistance for families looking for nursing home care.
The Ohio Department of Aging has a website that shows the ratings of long-term care facilities, she said.
The task force report is due May 26, but the work won’t end there, McElroy said.
“We want them all to be excellent,” she said about care facilities. “We want every resident to be treated with dignity.”
The task force consists of leading experts in aging, long-term care, and other disciplines – as well as long-term care consumers and advocates themselves – appointed by DeWine to study issues surrounding quality of life and quality of care, with a goal of making excellence the expectation for all of Ohio’s 960+ nursing homes.