Nursing home ombudsman agency holds 'friend-raiser'

April 23, 2004|HERB BROCK

Their average age is 85 1/2 years. Half of them have some level of dementia. Half of them have no family, at least none that ever visits them. Many are helpless. Many more are voiceless.

These statistics add up to a typical patient in a Kentucky nursing home. While those not trained in health care, particularly of long-term patients, may not be able to do much to improve the physical conditions of nursing home patients, they can do a lot to bolster their mental and emotional well-being.

They can provide both help and a voice.

This was the message from Dr. Eric Mount, a retired Centre College professor who is chairman of the board of the 17-county Nursing Home Ombudsman Agency of the Bluegrass, at a breakfast meeting Thursday morning at the dining commons at Centre College.

Also making the same plea were NHOA executive director Kathy Gannoe and NHOA's Boyle County ombudsman Barbara Waters. NHOA serves 17 central Kentucky counties, including Boyle, Garrard, Lincoln and Mercer.


The purpose of the meeting was not to ask for money but to ask for help from the community for nursing home patients.

"This is not fund-raising. This is a friend-raising effort. We're trying to raise the consciousness of the community. We're trying to let them know what NHOA does to help patients and what they can do to help," said Mount, noting that the local ombudsman program is supported by Heart of Kentucky United Way, Boyle County Fiscal Court and Danville City Commission.

Generally good marks for Boyle County nursing homes

Meanwhile, Gannoe gave generally good marks to conditions in Boyle County's nursing homes, indicating there have been insignificant violations of state regulations governing patient care. One of the local facilities, Danville Centre for Health and Rehabilitation, had been the subject of a major state probe a few years ago.

Gannoe said the most important thing that ombudsmen and volunteers can do is to make sure that nursing home patients and their families are heard, whether they are concerned about minor situations like how they want their breakfast served or major issues such as abuse and neglect.

She said her agency has one of the higher ombudsman-to-patient ratios in the state but that it can still use more ombudsmen and volunteers.

"Many of these (patients) are no longer able to speak out for themselves, and, if they have families, their families often are afraid to speak out for their loved ones," said Gannoe. "It's common that some families are intimidated. They say to themselves, 'I need to say something about this problem but, if I do, they (nursing home management) might mistreat my loved one or throw her out of the nursing home."

In the vast majority of nursing homes in Gannoe's service area, she said such fears are unfounded. But there are plenty of patients who still need a helping hand, a volunteer voice to let staffs know of any problems or concerns, she said.

"We have 64 nursing homes in our 17-county area and, in most cases, the care given is professional and it is given in a kind and gentle way," she said.

Gannoe included the four Danville long-term care facilities - the 109-bed Danville Centre for Health and Rehabilitation, the 90-bed Charleston Health Care, a 15-bed unit at McDowell Place, and the transitional care unit at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center - in her generally positive assessment of regional nursing homes.

No state investigations of area facilities right now

The Danville Centre had been cited and its parent company fined in the late 1990s for major violations of state regulations governing patient care, but Gannoe said conditions there have improved substantially and that there currently are no state investigations of area facilities or reports of significant violations in any of them.

However, Gannoe noted that NHOA recently began a program to detect and prevent sexual assault and abuse of patients. She cited a case of a patient who had been in the same facility - not in this area - for several years and then suddenly began showing signs of having been sexually assaulted.

"Only 1 percent of the complaints we handle over the last year - a total of 42 - involve sexual assaults or abuse, but the reporting of it has been increasing to such an extent we want our people in the field to know what it is and be on the lookout for it," she said, adding that all NHOA ombudsmen and volunteers are receiving training.

While care and conditions at area nursing homes generally are good, Gannoe said NHOA and its local ombudsman, Waters, still are handling complaints, even though many of them would be considered minor to most people but are major to "folks who often have nothing to do and look forward to meal times as the highlights of their day."

"We have 265 residents in long-term care facilities in (Boyle County) and, over the last year, we have recorded 265 complaints. That really isn't a lot when you consider the nature of most of the complaints," said Gannoe.

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