Over the past several months, a microscopic entity forced us to face our fragility and vulnerability. This invisible creature brought our lives to a halt, forced us to live and work in near isolation, and, most egregiously, experience the heartache and extreme pain caused by knowing that our loved ones were dying alone in an intensive care unit. It’s time for change.
Adding to this travesty, we witnessed the awful human capacity for brutality and callous behaviors. The images of George Floyd’s murder are forever emblazoned in our memories and go well beyond comprehension, reflecting the very worst of our human nature. It’s time for change.
However, in contrast, we also witnessed tens of thousands of people filling the streets of nearly every major city in the world protesting this inexcusable behavior.
I believe this offers some proof that there are more good and decent people than not. Seeing the emergence of this next generation of voices advocating for social justice, exposing racist behavior, and demanding change offer some degree of hope for humanity.
But will we really change? Will we have the tenacity to do the work necessary to bring about the change? Will we persevere? It will not be easy.
We are facing, centuries upon centuries of racism.
Culture change and subsequent policy changes do not happen overnight.
“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”Martin Luther King, Jr.
We have to have the courage, a strong will, the intestinal fortitude to press ahead to fight the good fight. These words echo in my mind nearly every day.
“Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the fatherless, and plead for the widow.”
Written by the prophet Isaiah some 3,000 years ago, these words are still relevant today as we are confronting the same abhorrent behaviors that lead to injustice, oppression, children abandoned, and older adults marginalized, mistreated, and misaligned.
My life’s path led me to “…pleading for the widow,” and more explicitly advocating for the treatment of older adults living in nursing homes. While I am in no way equating ageism with racism and the recent horrific events, I do want people to know that far too many older adults are dying alone and, in far too many cases, prematurely. They suffer the consequences of ageist thinking, negative stereotypes that often lead to neglect and abuse.
Now, I want to be very clear that in the 30 years or so of working with people in nursing homes, the overwhelming majority of caregivers I met, are providing heroic care in a system that needs significant overhauling. But you don’t need a lot of bad apples to ruin the pie.
So how do we change the way people think about aging, older adults, and nursing homes?
Convinced by my research and the research of many others, I strongly recommend that nursing homes be required by regulation to implement and maintain a sustainable, dedicated robust volunteer program managed by a person that is certified in volunteer management (CVA). Coupled with having a professional manager of volunteers is implementing an onboarding process for recruiting, screening, and training well-qualified volunteers. It’s time for change.
Requiring this volunteer workforce would not only improve the quality of care and the quality of life for the people living in nursing homes, but it would provide a platform for educating the public as to what it means to live and work in a nursing home, (not to mention the impact the volunteer program would have on the nursing home’s CMS star rating)[i].
A robust volunteer program acts as a bridge to the greater community attracting new workers while correcting ageist thinking. How many people, who, having rarely ever thought of nursing homes recently witnessed because of COVID-19, the numerous social media posts depicting older adults and their loved ones peering at each other through glass windows, longing for the joy of embracing one another, sharing a kiss, breathing in the satisfaction of feeling connected?
How many people watched the social media posts of direct care workers donned in personal protective equipment (PPE) doing their best to provide excellent care while offering to make those personal connections on behalf of their loved ones? Who will post these images once the virus is gone?
Who will continue to tell the story?
Your volunteers will. Volunteers are not “nice to have” or a “supplement” to your nursing home staff. Instead, volunteers bring valuable gifts to your nursing home. They bring their passion, their love, their talents, their skills, their time, and most of all the feeling of connection. They are the conduit for change by engaging the community through a robust volunteer program. Educate your volunteers, and they will tell the story for you. They will become your champions.
Recently, while researching articles focused on nursing home volunteers, I found this quote:
“If non-pharmacological interventions were reimbursed in the manner that pharmacologic interventions are, it is likely that most costs would be offset by the decreased use of psychotropic drugs in the nursing home and related adverse events”[ii]Professor Jiska Cohen-Mansfield
Well trained and professionally led volunteers are a “non-pharmacological intervention” with proven results. Now is the time to recognize volunteers as a necessary, vital, and integral part of your care delivery. Now is the time for change.
I would love the opportunity to be part of your change. See my contact me page for details.
[i] Centers for Medicare and Medicaid assign a star-rating to nursing homes based on the quality of care they are providing. See https://www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare/search.html
[ii] Source: Cohen-Mansfield J. Nonpharmacological management of behavioral problems in persons with dementia: The TREA Model. Alzheimer’s Care Quarterly. 2000;1(4):22-34.