Peggy Lutz - Memory units need to raise qualifications when hiring caregivers
The story and editorial about dementia and aging in America (News-Register, Jan. 10) cited some bleak statistics as well as predictions. Both articles referred to what we with loved ones in professional care consider to be an ongoing institutional problem: the quality of care.
When we must place a family member in a memory care facility, we shop around. We know to check the observance of state guidelines, the disaster evacuation plan, whether the diet is balanced, how many staff members relative to the number of occupants are on duty at 3 a.m., the smell as we enter and more.
We do our homework. We ask questions — bunches of them, since we place these matters above the decor or plush furniture. We aren’t even as concerned about getting our money’s worth out of the high price we must pay as we are about receiving the level of care the brochure promises.
To us, the building is important only for safety and comfort. Apart from that, we have every right to expect the memory-unit caregivers to deliver correctly timed meds, properly attend to hygienic needs and, most of all, are experienced or trained in dementia behavior patterns. That’s the knowledge that determines the quality of a diseased person’s life.
Who is responsible for the above? First, management. But on the floor, it is the employed caregiver. Herein lies the crux of the issue: Corporate owners seemingly have little concern about hiring and firing, least of all that memory-care employees need special training and decent salaries.
Locally, low pay causes employees to leave one place for another program paying a little more, offering a better schedule or not requiring as much specialized training in dementia care. Turnover directly affects patients by distressing already-confused minds. Caregiver ignorance about dementia behavior patterns can put patients’ lives at risk.
The local Caregiver Resources family support group includes spouses living with these situations. They know firsthand what goes on inside both the facilities appearing in last week’s stories.
One member with experience in three memory facilities said it’s a rare caregiver who has any brain-disease behavior training. Three spouses said they themselves must spend many hours each week checking on, dressing and feeding their loved ones; in one case, due to a skin disease, spousal care involves taking sheets, underwear and pajamas home every day for laundering. Another member of the group said complaints from a family about neglect or abuse draw cavalier shrugs or mean-spirited rebuttals.
Corporate owners need to raise the qualifications of memory-wing hires. They need to pay decent salaries commensurate with training or experience, and arrange for tolerable schedules to reduce turnover. They might try gauging their overall quality of service by watching the many occupants without outside help —- there’s a huge lesson there.
The Caregiver Resources family support group meets from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays at the McMinnville Senior Center.
Peggy Lutz is facilitator of the Caregiver Resources family support group.