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October 17, 1997     Cape Gazette
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14 - CAPE GAZETTE, Friday, October 17 - October 23, 1997 Sussex nursing home hearing draws mixed testimony By Rosanne Pack It was a night of contrasts when a state legislative panel investigating nursing home care convened a public hearing in Sussex County Council chambers Wednes- day night. While many of those testifying told of supportive, positive experiences, others shocked panelists and an audience of more than 90 people as they told of alleged ineffi- ciency, neglect and abuse. Of those testifying, the ones who praised the care and service in area nursing homes outnumbered those who condemned them. However, among audience members, many heads nodded in silent agreement when dis- satisfied individuals told of their com- plaints. And, it was the consensus of panel mem- bers and those who chose to testify that there will always be room for improvement in the nursing home industry. Organized by Sen. Robert Marshall (D- Wilmington West), the investigation will consist of a public hearing in each county, to be followed by a review of all state agen- cies with responsibility for nursing home regulation. The state senator became concerned about the qualifications of nursing home employees and of the quality of care in gen- eral after constituents contacted his office in the wake of publicity regarding questions about the qualifications of workers in chil- dren's day care. Throughout the evening of testimony, Marshall reminded those present that the in- tent of the panel was to put the nursing home industry on notice that reports of im- proper staffing, inefficiencies, neglect and abuse would be investigated and exposed. Marshall did not say if or when nursing home residents or employees or administra- tors in the industry would be asked to testi- fy The panel plans to draft legislation by January, that will establish more stringent regulations for staffing and operating nurs- ing homes. LCC praised Among the southern Delaware nursing home facilities that earned praise is Lewes Convalescent Center (LCC). Anna May Millman told of her mother's residence there during the final months of her life. She said the therapy that she received, as well as the day-to-day general care, was ex- cellent. "They were concerned with her well-be- ing at all times," Millman said. "They kept me informed, and when she was terminal, I never saw care lacking. They treated her as if she would be fine the next-day." William Ward's wife, a stroke victim, re- sides in LCC, and he expressed the same appreciation for the policy of keeping fami- ly members apprised of the patient's care and progress. He said the dignity that his wife is allowed is of utmost importance. 'q'his is her home away from my home," he said. "She can live here with dignity. "When I first came here to talk to them, the doors were wide open. They explained everything to me from A to Z. The rights, the rates were all spelled out from day one." Ward said that he has witnessed visits from the ombudsmen operating under the directive of the state attorney general's of- rice, and it is his opinion that they are ex- tremely diligent. "That ombudsman visits frequently and stays on top of things. When she is there, the eyes never stop. She asks questions; she wants to know if I am asked about things, if I'm kept'up to date." Allegations of mistreatment In contrast to glowing reports, one woman told of physically removing her brother from one home as the ombudsman followed them and told her that she could not do so. She said the quality of care in that home was extremely poor, and her brother received few of the services that were in- cluded on the bill to Medicare. Marie Reckeweg said, "If you're not there, they don't do anything. They bill for the doctor's visit, even if all he does is look at the R.N.'s report; they bill for physical therapy that does not happen. "If you ask me, they perpetuate their exis- tence by keeping these patients dependent. It is incumbent onthe state legislature to do something. These providers are the ones that make the costs so high." As Reckeweg spoke, several of those in the audience nodded their heads. Following on the heels of many positive testimonies regarding nursing home care, Gladys and William Nixon rose to speak. William Nixon said, "My wife and I are wondering if we are in the right hearings. We are glad that some people have had such good experiences, but ours has not been so." The couple told a saga of Gladys Nixon's mother as she was moved from nursing home to nursing home. One home told them that they had to remove the patient because she was too noisy. They later learned that the Alzheimer's patient had not been given her proper medication. They allege that the southern Delaware facility where she now resides is guilty of neglect and abuse. Gladys Nixon thinks that her mother is mistreated because she is an Alzheimer's victim, and cannot communi- cate with the staff. She said, "Because of that, she is abused and neglected every day. She has bruises, and they tell us that she did it herself. She can't walk, talk or feed herself. She can't ask for anything. I have never seen anyone give her a drink of water. She is never dry when I go in to see her." William Nixon said that it cost them $43,000 to keep his wife's mother in the nursing home. "Forty-three thousand dollars, that's a lot of money for us," he said. "And, we have followed all the procedures trying to get im- provements. We have talked to the head nurse, the administrators, the ombudsman. Please give somebody power to make sure that these homes do their job. "We would like some answers; we would like to see some changes for those who can- not speak," he said. A respect for comfort One witness at the hearing had high marks for the center where his wife spent her last months, but he also complimented the panel on convening the hearings. Nell Postlethwait said the importance of having quality nursing-care facilities is growing. "We all will reach a stage where we are helpless as babies. We will need care as my wife had in a home that is clean and staffed by people who show good cheer and com- passion," he said. "The home where my .wife was had a fundamental premise that all should have. They had a respect for comfort care. In a hospital, the attitude is to attempt to cure you; in a good nursing home, they need to have an understanding of keeping patients comfortable and of treating them with compassion and good humor." Postlethwait said one concern of his is that linkage might exist between hospitals and nursing homes. He told of two different hospitals that attempted to place his wife in nursing homes that were not of his choos- ing. He considers himself fortunate that he was able to locate an excellent home in western Sussex County before she had to be moved from the hospital, but he questions how many people might find things out of their control. "I am concerned that certain homes might need to fill beds, and there might be some linkage with some hospitals," he said. "Someone needs to look into how you get from a hospital to a care center." The second public hearing on nursing- home care is 7 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 22, in Kent County Levy Court chambers, room 202, O'Brien Building, 414 Federal Street, Dover. Those wishing to testify or submit written testimony may call Steve Tanzer, 302-577-8718. Sussexmulls housing code .... revisions; hearing set Oct. 28 .... By Michael Short ter. Sussex County Council has al-: This is meant to be a more gen- ways taken the tact that a man's eral code and it comes in response home is his castle. But that could tY a complaint last year of a be changing wittl.the introduction burned-out home in Warwick this week of an ordinance estab- Park that'the owner refused to re- lishing new houing standards for habilitate. It's likely: tO spark de- Sussex County. The ordinance bate when the issue comes up for a would set standards for owner oc- Tuesday, Oct 28, public hearing lgth & cupied housing. That's different in council chambers. "I have , _v_.., from anything tile county has ever talked tea lot of people and I have Centuries done because the county has al- notfound one who felt it was a :i i .... ways taken a hands-off approach good idea," said County Council to a person's home. But the coun- President Dale DukesDukes said ty does regulate housing that is that he is getting a lot of phone rented, meaning tfaat there must be . calls from people who ai'e worried certain standards, such as require- about the potential of the ordi- ments for hot water and minimum nance. "It is not that the ordinance space per resident, in rented hous- is that bad, it is just the percep- ing. "It is, we feel, basic require- tion," he said .... " ments that are needed," according The ordinance reads "...The St King ton to County Administrator Bob provisions of this entire chapter :" uart s : Inc. Stickels. The j'oposed code. is shall be liberally interpreted so as : : Since 1930 less stringentthan the code for t0'minimize displacement of per- rented hotasing. A minimum sons whose dwelling units may, t0cated at the North end of the Rehoboth Beach = Boardwalk next to the Henlopen Hotel space, requirement-per-person, deviate from this chapter's speci- .- Store hours: Man- FrJ 9am to 5pm Sot 10pm to Spin ' peLlbedroom, was dropped. So fications but do not pose an immi- was thd requirement that hot water nent threat to thehealth, safety Call (302)227-2524 , be heated to a SlX;Cific degree. The and general welfare of the occu- new code simply requires hot wa- pants."