Nursing home abuse sheds light on larger issues

    The family of a woman who was allegedly abused at an upscale Delaware County nursing home is planning to sue. The story sheds light on bigger issues of how working conditions can lead to elder abuse.

    The three former employees of “The Quadrangle” in Haverford who were charged in abusing the elderly woman were what’s called “direct care workers.” In a nursing home setting, they are responsible for many of the daily tasks in caring for elderly residents, such as bathing, feeding, or dressing.

    Michele Mathes from CARIE, the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly, says their work is crucial and important, but not well compensated. According to Mathes, workers typically make between $9 and $12 an hour, and often don’t have benefits. A demanding job paired with low wages can make for a toxic combination, adds Mathes.

    The industry is plagued by high staff turnover rates. But Mathes explained that many employees’ dissatisfaction is not just about pay, it’s that they feel disrespected: “Even though they are the ones who are the closest to the care recipient they are the ones who have the least input in making decisions about what would be good care.” Mathes says giving direct care workers meaningful responsibilities improves overall care, as well as strong leadership that emphasizes respect for elderly residents. “If you have an administration say ‘this is what we expect here, this is how we treat adults, this is how we respect older adults in our facility’ you are going to have this message communicated throughout the chain of command down to the direct care workers who are doing most of the hands-on work.”

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    Mathes adds that it’s important to listen to older adults when they mention abuse or neglect, and to investigate their claims, even if the person appears to be confused.

    Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Aging, Brian Duke, says direct care workers have a tough job that requires ongoing training. “Suppose one of the people they are serving is living with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Duke, “the employee has to be aware of how they will behave, and how they can encounter that person in a compassionate way.”

    Duke says Pennsylvania has an increased demographic of older people, which means service providers, communities, and policy makers have to think about ways to inspire and retain the current work force, as well as innovative ways to expand that workforce.

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