2014-05-21 / Features

A woman who doesn’t know the word quit exists

Straight Ahead
Mike Floyd

This column is about determination and a woman who doesn’t know the word “quit” exists, at least once she steps into the ring.

It’s a story about a friend of mine from Southern Illinois whose mother suffered a mild stroke and needed several weeks of rehabilitation and 24-hour monitoring. It’s pretty much standard procedure for most stroke patients to help them get back to their former lifestyle.

What had started out as case of “let’s take care of mom,” turned into a maddening and frustrating situation that is common in the field of senior healthcare. And that would be patient neglect.

Ellen is my friend’s name and her mother’s name was Dorothy, who lived in a small town in Southern Illinois. Ellen, who lived out near Palm Springs, Calif., had been very close to her mother and family while pursuing different careers, which involved years of relocating, additional education and constant travel.

Not once did her sense of family ever diminish.

Naturally, when her mother, 91, suffered a stroke, she immediately flew home to help with anything she could, one being look for a nursing home where her mom could recover after the hospital released her.

“My brother and I stayed there at the hospital for three days and then took her to one of the facilities the hospital recommended. It was just for therapy and then she would go home,” recounted the George Mason University graduate last week in a phone interview.

Ellen, who is a registered nurse, continued, “Well, we had to take her out of that facility and did within 24 hours because it was so filthy. They had left my mom on a bedpan that one night, plus she almost fell and there were feces on the toilet seat, which I took a picture of to document.

“We took her to another facility thinking it would be a better one and that’s where all the rest of this neglect took place and literally, over time, killed her.

“We had the right to chose which facility for her, but when you’re in that type of situation, you only have minutes to say yes or no,” Ellen said.

Openings in most rest homes are grabbed up as fast as they become available.

Ellen and a good friend had gone out to three different facilities and they found the one that looked like it was for simple rehab and came off as clean and bright.

“It appeared to have a higher functioning clientele. There weren’t people running around the hallways like in a nursing home. So, I thought this will be a good one and we could be with her for seven more days.”

Things seemed to be fine, so Ellen and her brother (who also lives on the west coast) flew back to California.

“I felt that my brother and sister, who live in Missouri and New York, would be able to handle any problem, and my son and my friend were there and would be visiting her, too,” Ellen said. “We thought she was going to be fine because she was very high functioning and the stroke didn’t leave her with any difficulties. She would talk to you and you wouldn’t know she had a stroke at all. All she needed was a little bit of therapy and then we were going to bring her to her home and have 24-hour a day care, a normal procedure.”

During this period of time, while the neglect was taking place, Ellen was on the phone with her mother almost every day and communicating with the facility almost daily.

“In spite of the communications, she actually had been suffering from dehydration that required emergency care, which means they weren’t giving her enough fluids,” Ellen noted. “She was also malnourished and lost five percent of her body weight. I couldn’t see that on the phone, yet the nursing staff was telling me, ‘Your mom is doing fine!’

“Then she developed a urinary tract infection that we found out later 50 percent of their patients had also developed and that stems from lack of hydration. I also learned that Medicare had cited this facility for excessive falls. That is common when patients are left alone. They had three times the national average.

“We found out a lot of things about this place through the Freedom of Information Act, which is available to the public,” Ellen continued. “What management had tried to hide and distort was all documented in the nurse’s reports, but I had to search over hundreds and hundreds of documents to get at the truth.

“Even though I’m an RN, they were really able to dupe me. I was thinking what a great place mom was in. I can’t believe it happened to me. I like to think I’m educated and more on top of things, and look what happened. You can imagine things like this with the average person out there.” The horror story continued when Ellen’s mom got pneumonia, but the staff didn’t tell her. She only found out later, by checking more nurse’s notes, that Dorothy was so weary she couldn’t even get out of bed. Her condition went from alarming to shocking.

“She was so weak, they had to put her in a wheel chair and some days she couldn’t even think correctly,” Ellen said. “This we discovered in the nurse’s notes but they kept telling me she was doing fine.

“They told me she was up, walking around and doing fine. But, the longer they neglected her, the more her mental state deteriorated. Then, she fell and was in such terrible pain, she was unable to walk.

“When my brother called me and told me these things, I said, ‘Mom’s dying and we have to have an ambulance get her home and out of there. I got on the phone with the nurse supervisor and said, ‘My mom is dying and we’re coming over there with an ambulance so we can bring her home.’”

(Final Installment for Saturday)

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