Death in Nursing Homes
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Rightfully, in the aftermath of fire and ice and horror in L’Isle-Verte, there’s overwhelming concern right now about the issue of safety in care homes for seniors.
Most of it is about sprinkler systems and the laws, or lack of laws, mandating sprinklers. Questions of cost, bureaucracy, construction codes and staffing are at the top of today’s news. Tallies of lives lost in past nursing homes fires in Canada are published: 13 dead in six nursing home fires since 2009, not counting L’Isle Verte.
And we’re still waiting to find out what happened to the 30 residents of L’Isle-Verte who aren’t accounted for.
(How can that be? If they left the residence to stay overnight with family or for any other reason, wouldn’t that be recorded electronically in the cloud where the information could be accessed easily if necessary no matter what? Or is “not accounted for” really an evasive way of saying the death toll is unconscionable, too awful to acknowledge at once.)
All the concern and postmortem analysis is cold comfort not only to the families and seniors affected by the Quebec conflagration, but also to families and seniors who have to deal with decisions about arranging for assisted living.
With every fire, every horror story, the apprehension about what will happen to our parents and ourselves if aging steals cognitive and physical abilities turns into outright fear.
Almost everything else about the way we live now has changed since the post-war period: attitudes, medical treatment, transportation, smart phones, you name it.
The Soviet Union has come and gone, we’ve been to the moon and back, we tweet and we transplant faces. But we still warehouse “old folks” in “homes” that, even if they’re equipped with sprinkler systems, are not somewhere anyone would want to live.
If humanity could eliminate debtors’ prisons and insane asylums, surely we can do the same for these sad, understaffed institutions for the impaired elderly.
It’s a challenge faced every day by David Farrell, director of the Green House Project (thegreenhouseproject.org), a non-profit organization based in Arlington, Virginia, which supports and helps fund integrating elders in the community in small group homes as a radical alternative to traditional long-term care.
“We’re still kind of stuck in the big box mentality,” he says. “The more seniors who can be co-housed, the more efficient the operations, the greater the return on investment. It’s the Costco mentality: bigger is better. It’s hard to change. Even the regulatory system is geared to regulating big institutions and big institutions have organizational systems geared to efficiencies for the staff. It’s hard to change that.”
But Farrell believes that boomers will force that change.
“Boomers will not tolerate three to a bedroom,” he says. “Boomers don’t want a roommate and won’t accept a roommate.”
He adds, wryly, “Even sharing a room in college wasn’t that great.”
He also points out that it’s not just an issue of privacy and dignity; it’s also a clinical issue.
“Sleep deprivation has a major effect on elders’ quality of life,” he says.”And large institutions with lots of shared rooms, shared showers and dining rooms are the most efficient way to spread infection. There’s no acute care hospital being built now in the U.S. that doesn’t have all private rooms. And they’re doing it to stop the spread of infections. These norovirus outbreaks spread quickly when you’re co-housing 85 frail seniors whose immune systems are already compromised.”
Boomers will also force change in elder care when they become aged, says Farrell, because right now they’re the huge generation of caregivers.
“Boomers are in their prime caregiving years,” he says, “and they’re doing everything they can to avoid nursing homes for their parents.”