Thursday, May 3, 2007

Culture Change is a personal issue for a growing number of Americans

Yesterday I put my mom on a train to Minnesota to visit her mother for 2 weeks. It is the first time she’s traveled this distance by herself – probably in her entire life. Following the auto accident last fall that took the life of my father and severely injured my mother, she has been through numerous surgeries, 10 weeks in skilled nursing care, 3 weeks in assisted living, 8 weeks with an aunt and uncle at their home, and finally, 2 months ago, she moved into a cottage in a retirement community about 10 miles from my home.

It’s been a long, challenging journey. She has recovered her full independence, despite surgeons and therapists telling her she’d be in a wheelchair for at least a year, and maybe never walk again. As a professional who has worked with seniors and their families in similar situations my entire adult life, experiencing it personally has given me a completely different view.

While it was fun to take my mom shopping for sturdy support shoes when she decided that she would, too, walk (she ended up with what the kids call “skater shoes”), it was certainly no joy to sit at her bedside in the nursing home and get a reality check about what that level of care is really like. Some days I would cry all the way home, thinking about my strong-willed, physically active mom who has been a nurse her whole career, now dependent on a group of poorly trained nursing aides to keep her from wetting the bed by actually answering her call light in less than 30 minutes. It was never that they intentionally left her waiting as they were, like most caregivers, a dedicated group of hard working individuals. They simply didn’t have the resources to meet her needs in a timely basis.

I’ve long been an advocate for seeking care for a loved one who needs more than the family can reasonably provide, and I must admit I got chills that one morning my mom called me with her “new plan” – the one that consisted of putting a hospital bed in our living room and her living there until she could live independently.

Being a charter sandwich generation member with a young daughter still at home this clearly wasn’t an answer. I knew – and my mother, fortunately, did too – that she needed the care of people who were there just for that purpose.

But it still broke my heart to see how far we have yet to go in achieving a real “culture change” in nursing home care and services – especially when my own mother paid the price.

In her nursing home, motivation to change is likely far off. This was reputedly the best in town, and consequently had a waiting list to get in. It may not be until a facility is economically hurting that real change begins.

Until then, this is not only a societal challenge – it’s a personal one.

No comments:

Post a Comment