This guest post by former nurse Sue Turner calls a spade a spade.
“No trespass orders given to family members after they complained about Ottawa long-term care home,” reads the headline.
As I scan down the page, I become enraged. This bit pushes me over the edge:
“After her mother’s only son died, the nurse [daughter] had to obtain special permission to go to her mother’s room to break the news, she said. On the day of his funeral, she was barred from going to her mother’s room to help prepare her.”
It’s a travesty that being too “vocal” and “complaining” on behalf of a loved one in “care” makes things worse for everyone. Although retaliation against caregivers by nursing homes and other such facilities has become a regular occurrence, the catastrophic effects on families and residents across Canada (and the rest of the world for that matter) receives scant attention.
Residents’ Bills of Rights and mission statements look good on paper and on walls, but they don’t protect residents and family members when dealing with the issue of retaliation by nursing facilities if family members become “hard to manage” – at least from the facilities’ points of view.
Fear of reprisal is a contributing factor in the widespread under-reporting of elder abuse and neglect within our nursing care facilities, and government agencies and ministries know it. In Ontario, Canada, for example, although legislation requires mandatory reporting and institutions urge caregivers to report their concerns, the Ministry does precious little to protect or support those who speak out on behalf of loved ones. It remains to be seen if the same will be true in Quebec, Canada, which passed similar legislation in May 2017.
The Ottawa Citizen story is one more example of unspeakable punishment and emotional harm inflicted on family members and residents following complaints of abuse, neglect or substandard care. It is appalling that administrators in Ottawa, Ontario, are using city by-laws, intended to protect the elderly, to silence complainants and defend their own (i.e. the facilities’) reprehensible actions.
As a former nurse and health advocate for my parents, I know from experience that family members who fear repercussions by nursing homes and other such facilities are justified in their fears. I was subjected to threats and intimidation when my reasonable questions and concerns were deemed “interference” by the facility in which my elderly parents resided. My advocacy annoyed high-level staff and management, and shockingly resulted in false accusations of elder abuse being leveled against me by the facility.
Although the police immediately determined the allegations unfounded, the personal assault to my integrity was incredibly distressing. The administrators who made the accusations knew they were false, and that they were made deliberately with the intent to cause harm. Although I was both angered and terrified by the power held by my accusers, I took prompt and decisive action, and demanded an internal investigation, which was conducted in a sloppy manner and yielded a predictable result: case closed. I persisted, and forced the case to be reopened. Eventually, the retirement home acknowledged wrongdoing on behalf of its staff, but no one was ever made accountable for the gross misconduct motivated by revenge. Nevertheless, I reclaimed my power, and now advocate for others victimized by our broken system.
Bad practices will continue, and sadly, the most vulnerable among us will endure needless suffering until we make our voices heard. Advocates who speak out on behalf of their loved ones, despite the challenges and risk of retaliation, will one day bring an end to neglect, abuse and unacceptable care standards and change the culture of care. One person can make a difference, and together we will prevail.
Sue Turner is a former nurse who took on the role of care advocate for her aging parents when they were in their nineties, and residing in a long-term care facility in Ontario, Canada.Turner’s advocacy with respect to the inferior care her parents received ended up pitting her against facility staff. She eventually moved her father and mother out of the facility, and cared for them herself in her own home in Quebec, Canada, where they lived until they died at the ages of 100 and 101 respectively.
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