Intimidation tactics trample residents' rights
This month’s column is about retaliation, specifically homes that retaliate against residents who complain or who offend them in some way. Retaliation against a resident can be overt, but often it is not. Staff can delay serving a meal until it is cold, or put residents into an uncomfortably cool shower, or take 45 minutes to answer calls for assistance. It’s an abuse of power, a reminder to residents that they aren’t in charge of their lives anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. There are good homes, where care is anywhere from competent to wonderful. In these homes, the staff seem to understand that they are taking care of vulnerable people who can’t be expected to behave like healthy younger people. The staff know that a bad night’s sleep, or chronic pain, or grief can make residents snappish. They don’t resent providing help with the residents’ daily needs, even if it means taking someone to the toilet repeatedly. In short, these homes really “get” the population they are serving and are able to accommodate their needs.
Other homes just don’t get and don’t accommodate the needs of frail seniors. I was baffled as to why the elderly ladies in one assisted living home kept assuring ombudsmen that they were not calling for help “too much.” Given that the home was paid to provide assistance to them, why were they worried about asking for it?
Residents have a right to ask for help with daily care and to receive it. They have a right to express a grievance if the home is not providing the assistance that was agreed upon in their plans of care. They have a right to expect a reasonable response to their grievance. They also have a right to expect that the home will not retaliate against them if they do exercise their rights.
But the fact is, sometimes homes do retaliate. The ladies who were careful not to ask for “too much” had just witnessed a resident receive an eviction notice. What did she do to get evicted? Staff thought she was asking for help with toileting “too often,” so they delayed answering her calls for assistance.
She became increasingly frustrated and sharp-tongued. Then the home cited “abusive behavior” as the reason for evicting her, pointing to a clause in their residential services contract that requires residents to behave respectfully. No wonder residents didn’t want to ask for “too much” help in that home.
The law does afford residents protection from retaliation. AS 47.33.350 prohibits homes from retaliating against residents who exercise their rights. AS 47.62.040 not only prohibits retaliation against a person who makes a good faith complaint to the Ombudsman, but makes it a class B misdemeanor. I hope that anyone who feels residents are being retaliated against will give our office a call and make a report.
To all the great caregivers out there who work hard to make their residents comfortable, who would never think of resorting to mean-spirited strategies to punish residents, thank you for everything you do. To families who are shopping for an assisted living home, talk to residents and observe them carefully. If they are hesitant to talk about the care they receive or if the caregivers don’t seem friendly and ready to answer questions, try another home.
Diana Weber is the Alaska Long Term Care Ombudsman. If you are interested in becoming a Long Term Care Ombudsman, call 334-4480 or (800) 730-6393.