Sunday, July 30, 2006

Advocating for our Elderly Parents

The Right Way to Complain

When your loved one is suffering, your first reaction is likely to be outrage. While you may want to scream at a careless aide, pause to consider what's ultimately best for your family member. Controlling your temper may be hard but keeping a civil demeanor will help get your complaints resolved more quickly. Here is the protocol to follow:

1. Talk to the staff responsible for your loved one's care. Don't accuse or attack them, but let them know what the problem is clearly, calmly and respectfully. Intemperate words not only will antagonize the staff but can also be used to "prove" you're a danger. If a worker cites reasons for the lapse, listen to her, make sure you understand and ask how you can work together to prevent the situation from recurring. At home, keep a log of such conversations. If the situation is resolved successfully, thank the staff members involved.

2. If the problem isn't corrected in a timely way, complain in writing to your nursing home administrator. Again, be civil. Describe the issue and your efforts to resolve it clearly, without berating or threatening the staff. Keep copies of your complaints, all responses and any evidence.

3. If you don't get a satisfactory response, request outside mediation from your state ombudsman's office. After an ombudsman is appointed, he or she will talk to you and nursing home personnel to try to resolve your differences amicably.

4. If the problem's still not settled, contact your state Department of Health. Provide a detailed, documented summary of your complaint. The state will then dispatch inspectors to investigate your claims. If you disagree with the findings, you may need to hire an outside attorney and file a lawsuit.

5. Establish an independent family council with other residents' relatives so that you can voice your concerns collectively. The National Citizens' Coalition for Nursing Home Reform (NCCNHR) offers advice on how to get started.

6. After you complain, be extra-vigilant and document reprisals. If you suspect retaliation, consult an independent advocate. NCCNHR's Web site offers a list.

From The Truth About Nursing Homes