By Brian Goslow
Thanks to the efforts of a Newton woman and her local representative, state nursing homes are now required to provide family members and health care proxies with a copy of the laws and regulations they operate under and an explanation of the new resident’s rights upon his or her admission.
The recently published Massachusetts Department of Public Health A Guide to Nursing Home Care: Important Questions That Residents and Families Often Ask brochure was the result of a three-year campaign by Rachel Geller, who was determined to ensure that no other family would suffer the pain hers had endured after the nursing home she where her aunt lived denied the woman re-admission after she suffered a seizure. Geller’s aunt was left temporarily homeless.
“This brochure means so much to me because it is my Aunt Sally’s legacy,” Geller said. “It became a personal struggle of mine to do something to find the humane and moral response to nursing homes that diminished the humanity of those that needed this type of care. This brochure will provide family members with the tools to protect their loved ones, turning Aunt Sally’s suffering into her legacy and preventing this from happening to others.”
In 2007, Geller placed her aunt, Sally Miller, in a nursing home due to Miller’s severe Alzheimer’s disease and inability to speak. Within 24 hours of being admitted, Miller suffered a seizure and was brought to a hospital. When the hospital called the nursing home to report Miller was ready to return, the facility said it wouldn’t accept her back.
According to Geller, the facility’s CEO and other staff members told her it had the right to evict any resident without reason or notification as long as it was done within 24 hours of their admission. Her aunt had to be placed in a hospital geriatric-psychiatric ward for three weeks until Geller found another nursing home for her. Miller passed away in 2009.
The frustrating series of events led Geller to contact her state representative, Ruth Balser, D-Newton, to express her concern about what she and her aunt had been put through. She was stunned when Balser told her the law referenced in evicting her aunt did not exist.
Together, Geller and Balser put together a bill, which became known as “Sally’s Law,” to have an informational brochure on patient, family and patient proxy rights created and made available upon nursing home admission. Gov. Deval Patrick signed the bill into legislation on July 30.
The 12-page brochure, which is also available online, notes that residents and families (defined as family members, health care agents or legal representatives) are often concerned about daily routines, including bathing or showering, meals, personalized living space, continued pursuit of life-long interests and activities and getting up and going to sleep.
To help ease those anxieties, the booklet provides answers to questions frequently asked by nursing home residents:
•What if I have questions about medications?
•What if I’m not sure how well I’m keeping up with eating and drinking?
•Whom can I ask about physical therapy?
•What if I can’t locate some of my personal possessions?
•Who is allowed to see my medical records?
Most nursing homes meet with new residents and their families shortly after admission as a matter of policy. The brochure encourages contacting and finding a staff member, possibly a nurse on duty or social worker family members trust, to communicate with when the need arises. Concerns and questions should be directed to the facility administrator, director of nurses and medical director or the patient’s personal physician or nurse practitioner.
If questions or concerns are not answered satisfactorily, the Executive Office of Elder Affairs has assigned an ombudsman to assist in resolving these issues.
The Department of Public Health’s Division of Health Care Quality, Executive Office of Health and Human Services Ombudsman Office, Massachusetts Aging Services Association and Massachusetts Senior Care Association contributed to the publication.
The booklet can be downloaded at: www.mass.gov/Eeohhs2/docs/dph/quality/hcq_circular_letters/dhcq_nursing_home_brochure.pdf