by Kathleen Heren, Rhode Island Long Term Care Ombudsman, Guest Blogger
If you are wondering why I have named this article Conundrum, knowing the meaning of the word is the best place to start. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a conundrum as a confusing or difficult problem or question.
Last year, a law was passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly; (23-17.5-32) which mandates minimum staffing in nursing homes. This law is not unique to Rhode Island. Other states are attempting to pass a version of this bill. Certainly, our nursing assistants that worked through the pandemic, as well as the nurses, deserve a medal. They sacrificed their health and that of their families to care for our residents. The other side of this was that nursing homes were unable to find nurses and nursing assistants to fill the positions they had available. Also, money is an issue right now. The hospitals and nursing homes are using nursing pool agencies. The price tag that goes along with this is outrageous. Even the pool agencies were not always able to fill the promised positions at the facilities. Our seniors deserve the best care to maintain quality and dignity of life.
"Certainly, our nursing assistants that worked through the pandemic, as well as the nurses, deserve a medal. They sacrificed their health and that of their families to care for our residents." --- Kathy Heren
No one has suffered more than residents and their families during the pandemic. The number of nursing home deaths in Rhode Island and across the country was overwhelming. What is the solution to this problem? I do not even think King Solomon would have been able to find a solution. I believe that more money has to be given to nursing homes for them to be able to recruit help.
It is a fact that all kinds of Band-Aids have been applied to solve this dilemma. One is letting individuals receive an abbreviated on-the-job training by the facilities, with the intention that these individuals will then attend and complete a formal training course. When I started my long-term care career working in a nursing home, I was amazed at the work the nursing assistants accomplished having received only on-the-job training. One nursing assistant would train the other newly hired assistants. I made up my mind then that I would teach them as much as I could while we worked together, and their response was wonderful. The nursing assistants were hungry for knowledge and wanted to do things correctly. It was soon after that when a law passed by the Federal Government (OBRA) which made nursing assistant training mandatory
There has been a temporary stay in the law by the Governor to give the facilities time to try and produce an answer. Time is quickly running. I fear that the owners are just going to throw in the towel and close. Last year, four nursing homes closed in Rhode Island. There was no way to staff the facilities, and rather than harm the residents, the owners decided to close instead. My office assisted in placing the residents in other facilities. Even though we placed residents in nursing homes that they requested, it was still heartbreaking for them to leave their home, the staff that they loved, and their friends, too. People must understand that nursing homes are like your family and mine, where residents and staff are bonded and love each other.
Last year, four nursing homes closed in Rhode Island. There was no way to staff the facilities, and rather than harm the residents, the owners decided to close instead." --- Kathy Heren
In closing, I am not being judgmental of either side. My concern is for the residents. It seems like no matter what happens, the residents lose. It is not like years ago when families could care for their parents. Most children must work full-time or maybe two jobs. It is my sincere wish that everyone has a better understanding of the issue facing facilities, their staff, and most importantly, the elders and disabled who reside in long-term care facilities. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.
My office is available to help you with any concerns you may have. Our number is (401) 785-3340, Toll-free (888) 351-0808. I can also be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ms. Heren provides a monthly guest blog to Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. in which she discusses issues and topics that come across her desk as the Rhode Island State Long Term Care Ombudsman. The opinions expressed in our guest blogs are those of the author(s) only. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Connelly Law Offices, Ltd, or its employees.