When a tragedy strikes in long-term care, who is to blame?

Sadly, we read of another tragic death, this time of a woman with memory loss in assisted living. The question will be asked; who is to blame? The staff member assigned to the resident, the staff on the shift, the charge nurse, the administrator, the owner, the corporation?

Unfortunate events can and do happen to the best practitioners. The facility referenced, where over 50% of residents have memory loss, is not unlike most senior living environments and facilities.

Because the number of residents with memory loss will only increase, there are some questions that should be asked of leadership. Here is a short list of questions to consider when caring for individuals with memory loss.

• Do you have the people, training, systems and support in place to care for individuals with memory loss/dementia?
• Are you yourself knowledgeable about the disease, enough to anticipate a resident’s every move? Are your staff?
• Do you consider the potential possibilities when admitting a new individual into your community?
• Do you thoroughly assess each potential admission to determine if they are truly appropriate for the services you provide?
• Do you have a new employee orientation program including dementia training?
• Do you conduct training on an ongoing basis?
• Do you have routine and effective methods of communication with all staff?
• Do you provide and monitor effectiveness of systems and security?
• Do you put the safety of residents first?

Staff care deeply about the residents they serve. They know them as people, not a room/bed number and not just an increase in census. Staff want to provide the best care possible, to nurture and protect residents – but they are often powerless. They have no control over staffing levels, admissions, orientation, training, policies, procedures, expectations for performance and discipline, equipment, supplies or security.

While the increase in memory care is in the news and predicted to increase, sadly many have not considered what it takes to provide an authentic, quality, person-centered memory care program. We can decrease the likelihood of tragedies in the future, but it will require a comprehensive strategy, an honest look at organization/corporate commitment to an authentic memory care program and the resources and support to create it.

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