Last week my partner and I had a meeting with the nursing home staff where my father-in-law receives care. This routine meeting was to discuss the care he receives and to apprise the family of any changes in his health.

In addition to my partner and me, there were three staff members present. While they were all pleasant, none of them introduced themselves. I had to ask what department they were representing. Only one person I had met before. Which is interesting considering this is not the first care meeting I have attended.

Where have they been? Are they new?

Initially the meeting progressed as a status update, your father-in-law is holding his own. No medication changes. His appetite is good. No changes in disease progression. Yada, yada. Ho hum is how I would describe the energy of the staff. Not rude. Not excited. Simply ho-hum.

The staff’s response fascinates me. When my father-in-law entered the facility in mid-February, he was in poor shape. He had just been discharged from ICU and was very weak from a bout of pneumonia. His first week in the facility I wasn’t sure if he was going to pull through.

Not only did he pull through, he gained weight and perked up quite a bit. My father-in-law is not the same man who entered. He looks so much better and reports feeling better too. He is more engaged and can speak intelligently about current events.

Which is why the staff’s ho-hum attitude surprised me: can they not see the difference?

I suspect they can but don’t want to get overly attached. I mean my father-in-law is turning 93 next month and does have a long-term health issue. Is this how the staff protects themselves? Let’s not care too much because our patients are going to die sooner rather than later?

Or is the staff burned out? This facility like many of its kind have a high turnover rate. Even though this facility meets the required staff to patient ratio as mandated by the state, they could always use more hands to care for this fragile population.

As a family member of a patient, I certainly wish they would hire more staff. In fact it is my biggest complaint about the facility. I don’t like how long my father-in-law has to wait to get dressed for the day or how long it takes for someone to respond to his need for a bedpan. But guess what?

My father-in-law has been in five facilities since January and I cannot tell a discernible difference among them. They all could use more employees. They all could do a better job of responding to the needs of the patients.

What helps us sleep at night is we have hired a wonderful person to visit our father-in-law daily. She goes every day to make sure he got dressed, ate a good lunch and engaged in some conversation. If it weren’t for her, I don’t think my father-in-law would be doing as well as is. I am so grateful we can afford her, especially since I know some families cannot.

Folks, I don’t know what the answer is but I can tell you it is not what we currently have in this country. And I hope we figure out a solution fast because according to U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Baby Boomers (people born between 1946-1964) will reach 72 million by 2030.

What I suspect is we are going to have to come together as a community to care for our aging population and not brush it off as that’s not my blood relation.

I hope we have the decency, empathy and compassion to treat this health crisis as an opportunity to heal our cultural shame around aging as well as death and dying.

I also hope we view this challenge as an opportunity to honor our elders opposed to viewing them as an inconvenience or burden. Because one day, it will be us in that position. One day we will need help living the last days of our lives. May we learn to treat others with the respect and dignity we hope to receive.

Love,

Kim Bushore-Maki

 

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