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Friday, July 29, 2011

Improving Nursing Home Ethics

A recent conversation with a friend about his father's nursing home experience taught an important lesson about nursing home ethics. Here's the story:

His father suffered from severe Alzheimer's and required full time supervision. A local nursing home that had a mediocre reputation some years back was said to have improved, and the family placed his father there.

The nursing home was in another part of the country, so my friend could visit only intermittently. On each visit he was impressed with the attentive, loving care the residents received.

His father lived in the nursing home for a few years before his death. When my friend made a final visit to collect his father's belongings and to thank the staff, he was invited to look at the nursing record. The final entry said it all with regard to the ethical ethos of the home:
May God grant peace to his gentle soul!
I teared up when he told me this and teared up again as I wrote it.

My friend spoke with the administrator who had turned the home around. He asked how this had been accomplished. Here's my reconstruction of what the administrator told him:
When I came here, we weren't caring for the residents the way I wanted it to be. I made a point of getting to know everyone on the staff in a personal way. I listened to their impressions and concerns about the home, and what they hoped for. I tried to treat everyone the way I would want to be treated, in the spirit we wanted our residents to receive. When I decided who we should build our future around and who had to go, the staff understood what I was doing, and felt I was being fair.
Improving quality doesn't need to be rocket science. My friend's father was cared for the way the staff was cared for. Ethically guided, respectful treatment of staff cascaded through to the residents, right up to the blessing my friend's father received at the end of his life.

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