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Nursing Homes Need Support, Not Blame

By Jill Vitale-Aussem, LNHA

I had hoped, with the current focus on healthcare workers as heroes, that the demonizing of nursing homes would cease during the pandemic.

It hasn’t.

I’ve seen very few news stories blaming hospitals when patients die from COVID-19 but nearly every story about people dying in a nursing home outbreak somehow blames the nursing home.

While there are always some bad apples, the vast majority of nursing homes are full of incredibly talented, passionate and dedicated leaders and team members who are doing the very best they can during a devastating and unprecedented time.

An industry survey found that 77 percent of nursing home respondents were lacking personal protective equipment (PPE). This isn’t due to lack of trying or stingy budgets. These organizations are working around the clock trying to source PPE. They order supplies only to have the deliveries intercepted for care settings deemed more critical. Unable to procure what they need through normal channels, they’re begging for PPE donations and asking people to sew gowns and masks.

Even the strongest leaders I know—those that have created empowered teams, excellent infection control protocols and incredibly well-run communities—are struggling, working seven days a week, implementing every infection control procedure they can.

And still, it’s not enough.

The virus gets in, not because of lax screening procedures, but because so many people are carrying the virus with no symptoms.

When the virus takes hold and Elders die, it’s not only the families that grieve. Those that have loved and supported these Elders for years are devastated. And during the pandemic, there is also an incredible amount of guilt. “Was I the person that unknowingly brought the virus in? Is it my fault that Alice died?”

Instead of being blamed, nursing homes need to be supported and nurtured during this incredibly difficult time.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Remember, it’s not just nursing homes that are struggling. All Elder care providers are fighting hard against COVID-19.
  2. Share every positive story you see about the incredible creativity, love and compassion that’s happening in Elder care right now.
  3. Contact local Elder care organizations. Ask if you can help in some way. Order food for the staff, donate money, find some way to show your support.
  4. When you see negative stories about nursing homes or other Elder care organizations, write letters to the editor, contact journalists. Speak up!
  5. Do your part to stop the spread of COVID-19 to Elder care settings. Unless you’re an essential worker, stay home.

About the Author:  Jill Vitale-Aussem, LNHA, is President & CEO of The Eden Alternative®, an international non-profit dedicated to creating quality of life for elders and their care partners, no matter where they may live. Prior to joining The Eden Alternative, Jill spent two decades as a nursing home administrator, CCRC executive director and vice president of operations. She is a licensed nursing home administrator, a LeadingAge Leadership Academy Fellow and a Reframing Aging facilitator. She is the author of Disrupting the Status Quo of Senior Living: A Mindshift and speaks internationally on the topics of culture, leadership and ageism. This piece originally ran on Jill’s personal blog. At this posting, it has had 120,645 views and 36 comments that tells Jill, “Our field needs validation right now.”