Advocates for Iowa nursing home residents urge systemic change

Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 10:45 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - A senior living facility in Keokuk County was fined close to $10,000 after a state report said the facility did not provide appropriate medical care for a woman who had a stroke. Advocates who work in nursing homes and care facilities spoke to TV9 following the incident and said there need to be changes in the industry.

According to a report released by the Department of Inspections and Appeals, a resident at Windsor Place Senior Living Facility in Sigourney complained of an “excruciating” headache and pleaded for help. Staff members reported her condition deteriorated, an administrator was notified, but “nothing was done.” It’s an allegation the administrator denies. A staff worker said, in a two-day period, the woman went from being independent to being “a vegetable.” She is believed to have had a stroke.

Angela Van Pelt is the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman for Iowa. Her job, along with seven local Long-Term Care Ombudsmen and about fifty volunteers, is to advocate for residents of nursing home and care facilities in the state.

“As you can imagine, looking at about 900-and-some facilities...that’s not a lot of volunteers,” said Van Pelt.

Lee Haring is one of those fifty volunteers, and he’s assigned to The Gardens in Cedar Rapids. He describes his role as trying ”to do anything we can to make their make sure that [residents] are getting the care and everything that goes with being a resident in a nursing home.”

Van Pelt said advocates’ work is necessary because residents of facilities are often reluctant to speak out.

“I don’t want say ‘at the mercy,’ that sounds a little extreme, but they are now under new rules, you know, a new living environment, “ Van Pelt said of elderly people who move to facilities.

She added her work is also needed because of systemic issues in the industry.

“I think there needs to be a bigger discussion about just culture,” said Van Pelt. “We’re seeing low staff numbers, we’re seeing burned-out staff still, we’re seeing underpaid staff, we’re seeing agency staffing.”

Van Pelt said agency staffing and the lack of “consistent staff workers” were concerns in particular.

“They knew who was working with them on a regular basis,” said Van Pelt. She said the outsourcing of work to agencies and corporations buying facilities made for a less direct connection between residents and those in charge of their care. “We seem to be adding more layers of separation to the detriment of the residents.”

The need for attention to residents’ well-being is why Haring advocates, not just for their health, but for other family members to stay involved with a loved one’s care.

“It’s so important to have family take an active part in their family’s life, while they’re living as a resident,” said Haring.

Those looking for more information about the long-term care ombudsmen can go here.