Growing Old and Walkaway Deaths in Assisted-Living Facilities

A long time ago, I was starting to envision how my wife and I might become a burden to our three children. I hooked up with AARP and took out a plan for Long Term Care which would cover us for four years. At the time, this was said to be the limit of life expectancy for a person entering these homes. And no, I am not advertising for AARP. We dropped the Part D and went with Well Care as we had no majr meds and WellCare did not have a monthly fee tied to its plan.

It could be that long, if the care is good and they do watch over you properly. As it turns out, the care may be not consistent and people wander away from the facilities and get into trouble, suffer injuries, or even die. The Washington Post has an article about it. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar comments on the issue also.

When the PPACA passed, Ted Kennedy also had thought of a plan offering Long Term Care. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to implement it.

Senators challenge assisted living industry over wandering deaths, poor care, Washington Post, Christopher Rowland, Douglas MacMillan

The U.S. assisted-living industry faces scrutiny Thursday from a bipartisan group of lawmakers who pressed for answers about low staffing, high costs, and a lack of transparency surrounding poor care and the preventable deaths of elderly people with dementia walking away unnoticed from facilities — an all-too-common tragedy revealed by a Washington Post investigation last month.

The federal government does not oversee the industry.

Citing The Wahington Post’s reporting, the chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), called Thursday’s hearing. He said deliberations about potential federal regulations will continue and asked the public to send stories of costs and care to help inform the committee. Casey said Thursday’s hearing — which included testimony from an advocate, an industry representative and a loved one who called the committee to report bad care — was the start of the biggest review of assisted living by the Senate in 20 years.

“Kareem discusses walkaway deaths in assisted-living facilities. ” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Taken from the Wahington Post

SUMMARY: The chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging is launching a review of safety lapses in the assisted-living industry, saying an investigation by The Washington Post into the deaths of dementia-care residents who have wandered from facilities had revealed “horrific” neglect and a “violation of trust.”

In response to The Post’s finding that nearly 100 seniors have died over the past five years after leaving facilities unnoticed or being left unattended outside, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) sent letters Tuesday to the nation’s three largest assisted-living chain owners seeking information about their practices. The Post’s report is the first nationwide accounting of such deaths.

A hearing set for Jan. 25 will be the committee’s most substantive review of the assisted-living industry in more than 20 years, Casey said.

“It’s terribly disturbing,” Casey said of The Post’s findings. “It’s a basic violation of trust when you’re making assertions about a service you’re providing and you’re not providing that.”

In all, The Post documented 2,000 walkway incidents, called “elopements” in the industry, involving assisted-living residents sufferingfrom Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Many were housed in special “memory-care” units that charge families more for extra attention and security.

Among those who died, The Post found, most perished because of prolonged exposure to extreme heat or cold. Others drowned in retention ponds,were hit by vehicles, or wandered into woods, rivers and swamps.

Kareem’s TAKE: The indignities of growing old are relentless and infinite. We struggle to find our value to society, sometimes to our own family. We agonize over when we will have crossed that imperceptible line from asset to burden. When the weight of us is no longer worth the effort. Out of the corners of our eyes, we glimpse our inheritors eyeing items, imagining how they would look in their own homes. Or is that imagined paranoia? I am well aware that to most of the world, my value is in what I did many years ago rather than in what I do now.

The improvement of medical science keeps us alive longer but doesn’t give us a space to go with longevity. We have not been any better at coping with the elderly, especially those in need of intensive care. Trying to care for our aged parents while still balancing the demands of everyday life can be overwhelming. As the narrator working in an elderly care facility says in W.D. Snodgrass’s poem 

“A Flat One”:

They say this was a worthwhile job
      Unless they tried it. It is mad
      To throw our good lives after bad;
      Waste time, drugs, and our minds, while strong
Men starve. How many young men did we rob
            To keep you hanging on?

However, by the end of the poem, he realizes that our desire to help—even serve—the infirm elderly goes beyond the practical. It is the ultimate definition of our values as human beings that we support the vulnerable when they are most in need.

To become the kind of people we claim we want to be, we have to treat our elderly with gratitude and care. Not like winter clothes we enclose in plastic boxes at the first sign of spring and stored in the rafters of the garage. Certainly, as we brag about American exceptionalism and flaunt our GDP, we can find better ways to care for our elderly—and hold accountable those who are tasked with doing so. Don’t forget, those of us lucky enough to grow old will all face the same fate of being placed in others’ hands. We have to make sure those hands are welcoming and warm, not just adept at counting money.

Too many American lack any long-term care as they age or are faced with defective care.