Saturday, 10 March 2012

Elder Abuse & Maintaining Happy Residential Homes

Well what a few weeks we've had!

My Mum, who is 97, is in residential care, virtually immobile but mentally alert. She's been there two years and it was a lovely happy vibrant place until Christmas.

They changed the manager in December . The new Manager was instantly invisible and the atmosphere in the home took an instant dive.  Staff became sullen, activities for the residents negligible and a strong smell of urine assailed the nostrils as you walked in indicating that toileting was not being done regularly.

It came to a head a few weeks ago when I visited unexpectedly and caught one of the carer's bullying a resident who couldn't walk very well , forcing her to 'hurry' down the hall and calling her lazy. I tried to get a face to face meeting with the Manager and was told she was unavailable. I tried to phone her from home and was told she wasn't there and was too busy to return my calls!

I wrote her a letter, also copied to her by email, outlining my serious concerns and asked for an immediate response. Gave her a day to respond and when she didn't, started phoning, emailing and writing letters of complaint to the Home's Head Offices. They owned 40 other homes . I didn't expect they'd ignore my concerns especially when I suggested the local newspaper might be interested in what I had to say.  They didn't.

They came back to me in under 24 hours. But they didn't immediately promise an investigation and I wasn't satisfied.  So I took my complaints and concerns to the local Adult Social Services/NHS team responsible for the quality of care in residential homes in their area. That action achieved instant results. The company owning the homes promised a team would move in unannounced within 48 hours to investigate. The NHS/Social Services advised they'd be following on it's heels and the Care Quality Commission, responsible for standards in care homes across the UK, was being notified.

Ironically , the manager who had thus far ignored me, finally picked up my correspondence unaware that investigating teams were about to descend upon her , phoned me and said she had everything under control and would be investigating as soon as she had time! I chose not to tell her that I'd already gone over her head and secured assurances that action would be taken by others. The investigating teams arrived and she was swept aside. Haven't seen her since and it appears that she and two other members of her staff have been removed. Rightly so!

We have learnt three valuable lessons from this :

1.   Don't let a well run happy residential home lull you into a false sense of security. A change of manager can bring about instant deterioration and you need to stay alert for it,

2.   Don't be afraid to complain when things go wrong . We were.  We thought complaining might make things personally worse for our own Mother.  It didn't. It brought about a complete change for the better.  Be persistent , if the first layer of authority ignores or fobs you off go to the next and don't be afraid to go to the top.

3.   Be aware of the signs that indicate care is deteriorating. An Officer with Adult Social Services told me that the first sign of trouble is always a strong smell of urine.  Other signs are few activities to stimulate residents, sullen/unhelpful staff who don't talk to the residents or visitors, residents ringing call bells that staff ignore, residents not getting regular showers or baths and small portions of indifferently cooked food.

And don't forget whether the fees of the home are being paid by the resident, family or Social Services or a combination of some or all of those; it costs in excess of £30,000 per year for care in one of these homes.  Companies are well paid, this is a £multi billion industry not a charity! and they should provide a quality service in return for their profits!

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