Vol. 11, #13.6 – Sept. 16th, 2019–ALLAN GOLD’S BLOG: Eleventh (extra) blog post of series on Elder Law for seniors and their families, particularly spouses, adult children, caregivers, etc. Today’s Topic: Health Care Killers Cont’d-We can help with elder safety by being hands on!
Special Notice to readers. The blog went on hiatus at the end of February 2019. Today, Sept. 16, 2019, I am now recommencing. Watch for uploads coming in this space. I’m aiming for every other Monday or more.
Tenth (extra) blog post of series on Elder Law for seniors and their families,
particularly spouses, adult children, caregivers, etc.
I am continuing on with my examination of elder abuse and more specifically the topic of health care killers. Last time I wrote about the former Canadian nurse, Elizabeth Wettlaufer and her crimes. Following her conviction, the government of Ontario appointed Justice Eileen Gillese to conduct an independent public inquiry regarding the circumstances of her killing spree and the systemic issues, raised thereby. The province was seeking answers and recommendations. It was called the “Public Inquiry into the Safety and Security of Residents in the Long-term Care Homes System.”
B. REAL- LIFE LESSONS LEARNED.
On July 31st, 2019, Madam Justice Eileen Gillese handed down her final report. The voluminous four-volume text concluded that Wettlaufer’s heinous acts were able to occur and to continue due to “systemic vulnerabilities.” It is noteworthy that the judge made the point that no individual or organizational misconduct could have led to the undetected killings. She reflected and made a number of recommendations. The intent was to help prevent future serial killers from harming the elderly. I saw her suggestions as having several broad themes.
First, she advised that the province of Ontario should increase funding, in part to augment staffing at its long-term care /nursing homes. I perceive that she’s trying to achieve better care through a higher credentialed staff who were superior trained and more familiar with patients and the rules/methods of the respective facility. I also saw her aim as being to lower nurse-patient ratios and enhance the efficacy of managerial supervision. This said, let me break that down and give you some specifics. You see, there were times when Wettlaufer was the only nurse working on a night shift, overseeing 99 patients with no oversight. Of course, stuff happens when people aren’t looking. In addition, the judge suggested that these institutions decrease their reliance upon temp agencies to fill staffing holes and reduce the risk of temp-agency nurses, who go onto the floor with little knowledge of the residents and procedures. Indeed, Wettlaufer worked in 2015 as an agency nurse when she tried to kill a patient at a nursing home in Paris, Ont. Madam Justice Gillese also wants Ontario to increase the number of registered nurses and registered practical nurses in these homes. And she desires increased funding for training, education and professional development for everyone therein, providing care to residents.
Another area of focus was the handling of patient drugs. She proposed that the province give grants ranging from $50,000 to $200,000 per long-term care home, depending on the size, this to improve the infrastructure around medication, including how it is stored and tracked. Such could include the installation of glass doors or windows plus security cameras in rooms where medication is stored and also the hiring of a staff pharmacist. You see, Wettlaufer stated that glass doors on medication rooms would have made accessing insulin more difficult. (For more information, please visit https://longtermcareinquiry.ca/en/)
B.1 My answer, if you ask, “You talking to me?” or say, “So …what does that have to do with me?”
“Yes, I’m talking to you! If you admit, “I don’t care.” Then I respond, “Shame on you, think again. Remember …you’re going to get old one day. And I’m sure that you wouldn’t then want someone to be so uncaring when you’re in need.” Or if you say, “It happened to somebody else and it won’t happen to me or my family….this happened there and I live here so I’m not at risk.” Then I would reply, “Ontario is not a “Long Term Care Hot Zone” or a “patient-resident high risk belt.” The abuse and murder of nursing home residents could happen anywhere and it could occur in your town and neighborhood and it can happen to anyone even to one of your family members. And like most of us, you have an aging parent or an elderly family member, who may be at risk. You see, for him or her, it may very well be do or die!” And that puts you in the hot seat. So get off your ass and do something! And if you want some specific things that you can do, kindly continue reading.
B.2 Family Member Mini-Checklist
I encourage everyone with an aging parent or elderly relative to:
- Be hands on when it comes to the well-being of your loved one.
- Keep alert to their status and condition.
- Pay close attention. Be observant: Stay attentive to detail.
- Become an attentive listener. If something is said, take it seriously.
- “Trust your gut.” For your information, this is a feeling or reaction, which might be deeper and in many instances, beyond the wisdom of our conscious minds. Indeed, if you sense that something bad is happening, you’re probably right. And this should prompt you to investigate more and to take further measures as need be.
- Raise the subject with other relatives. Indeed, this is a ‘bread and butter’ issue, which is fit for conversation around the kitchen table.
- Make notes and keep records – they will be essential as your proceed down the down the road in your investigation and at the later stages.
- Remember the ‘duck’ test. You know the one – “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.” In actuality, it’s a form of abductive reasoning.
Of course, we need to do everything possible to protect the most vulnerable in our society. And when it comes to elderly parents and relatives who grew up during the Great Depression and probably fought in World War II, they’re part of the “Greatest Generation” (as said by Tom Brokaw) and they deserve no less. So the clear take-a-way from the Wettlaufer crimes and the report of Madam Justice Eileen Gillese is, “Let’s do better.” But the big question for you and me is “How can we do that?” Here’s my answer …short & sweet.
Firstly, I encourage you to contact your members of parliament and provincial legislatures and earnestly state: 1. That Ontario is not alone – the problem of elder abuse applies Canada-wide; 2. That we need to learn from these unhappy occurrences, take the findings of this inquiry to heart and make changes province-wide and in our hometown facilities.
Secondly, know that we cannot stop there. While collective action is important, it might not trickle down to your aged loved one. It takes much more. If you’re lucky enough to have an older family member still living, the big lesson for you is to be more aware and vigilant and be there for him or her. It’s quite simple really. You see, we will win the war against harm to patients, by taking it one person -at-a-time and if you start with your loved one and see to his/her well-being, we can make this happen! So there you have it It’s now your move.
D. PREVIEW OF NEXT IN THE BLOG SERIES: Health-Care Killers- Part #3. I believe that with this blog series on elder abuse, I may have got you thinking about the safety and security of the aged. In or about February 2019, I introduced the topic of killers in a hospital (chronic care facility) or a seniors’ residence; and I also cited a few cases, which perhaps raised your angst level. Today, I completed my commentary on the case of Elizabeth Wettlaufer. Please stay tuned-there’s even more frightful stories to come. In the next piece, I will continue on giving you even more horrific real- life examples. Interested? Want to be frightened out of your wits? See you next time.*
E. NOTICE – CAUTION –DISCLAIMER. The material provided herein is of a general nature, strictly for informational purposes. The interpretation and analysis is not to be misapplied to a personal situation with a particular set of facts. Under no circumstances, are the herein suggestions and tips, intended to bring a reader to the point of acting or not acting, but instead, the hope is that they are to be a cause for pause and reflection. It is specifically declared that this content is not to be a replacement of or substitution for legal or any other appropriate advice. To the contrary, for more information on these presents, related subjects or any other questions, it is the express recommendation of the author that everyone seek out and consult a qualified professional or competent adviser.
* ©/TM 2019, 2015-2018,Allan Gold, Practitioners’ Press Inc. – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED