It’s been more than a week, I know. Things got a bit busy and since I am chief cook, bottle washer and everything else around this office, I have to set some priorities. Blogging is way down the list when clients are demanding my attention. Would you want it any other way if you were my client?
Well, let’s return and see how Mom has fared in the nursing home shall we? When I left off in my last post, Mom had just been “de-certified” from Medicare and moved to “unskilled” nursing bed. She is no longer receiving intensive therapy.
As the days and weeks go by, Mom becomes more depressed and hopeless. She seems dull and lifeless. Even her hair is limp and lifeless. When you visit she is often still in bed even though it’s the middle of the day. She’s not had a bath or brushed her teeth even. When you visit she is both irritable and angry, or cries and begs you to take her home. Visits become something you dread. More and more your visits are shorter and farther between.
One night, you get a phone call from the nursing home. Mom has taken a fall and hit her head. They think she’s okay, but it’s the nursing home’s policy that anytime someone falls and no one sees it happen they must automatically transport them to the E.R. to have them checked out. At the time of the accident, your mother was in pain, confused and panicked. As the EMT’s arrived and tried to put her on a stretcher and into the ambulance, she started to shout and became combatative. In order to safely transport her, the EMT’s needed to calm her down to prevent her from hurting herself (or them) so she is given a powerful tranquilizer and immobilized onto a stretcher.
Before you are able to arrive at the hospital, Mom is taken for an MRI. She is placed on a moving table and strapped down, then she is slid into a large cylindrical machine for 45 minutes. The machine makes all manner of very loud clanking, buzzing and ringing sounds while disembodied voices tell her to lie perfectly still. She comes out dazed, completely disoriented and not sure where she is or what is happening. It’s now 3 a.m. and the doctor decides to keep her “for observation.” They give her a drug that is meant to help her regain herself, an antipsychotic called Seroquel. It also acts as a sedative and knocks her out for the night.
The next morning she awakes and you are at her bedside. She has little or no recollection of what happened or why she is there. The doctor says she may have a concussion and wants to keep her for another day. She complains of pain in her hip and has severe bruising on her face. The last thing she remembers is at the nursing facility. She recalls ringing the call bell repeatedly for assistance to go to the bathroom. She says that no one ever came and her need became so urgent that she decided to get up herself rather than wet the bed. She thinks she may have had an accident on the floor and may have slipped on the wet floor. She must have fallen then. She recalls nothing else.
Meanwhile, back at the nursing home, the business office tells you that if your mother doesn’t pay for her bed, that is, put a “bed hold” on it, they will discharge her. With mother in the hospital again, your boss complaining that you’re taking too much time off, and the kids needing picked up from school, you can’t worry about this and set that aside so you concentrate on the urgent needs like the kids and mom in the hospital.
As it turns out, Mom has only bruised her hip and does have a concussion but its mild. However, the neurologist who treated her after the MRI of her head has also diagnosed her with vascular dementia (brought on by mini-strokes) which, while relatively mild now, will get worse over time. She ends up staying one more night in the hospital under observation.
The discharge planner comes around the next morning and starts discussing plans about where to send mom now. Come to find out that her bed at the nursing facility is now gone. Her belongings have been packed up and stored. She was “discharged” from the nursing facility to the hospital. However, the hospital never “admitted” Mom as an inpatient. She was only there on observation.
While this may seem to be mere bureaucratic technicalities, they have very significant consequences.
To discharge your mother to a nursing facility now means that she will NOT be eligible for Medicare for any rehab because she did not have the requisite 3 night inpatient stay she was merely there on observation.. Mother’s resources are nearly tapped out for privately paying for long term care. She has no long term care insurance. No Veterans or other benefits. That leaves very few options. In such cases, the only choice may be to find a “Medicaid” bed.
Medicaid rates (the rate at which Medicaid reimburses a nursing home) are substantially lower than the private pay rates. If a person comes into a nursing facility while eligible for Medicare treatment, the reimbursement rates are higher. But if a person has fewer resources and will be quickly dependent on Medicaid – public assistance – most nursing homes are reluctant to take them.
Nursing homes typically want to bill every penny they can to Medicare or other 3rd party source (supplemental, long term care insurance etc.) and/or if they can, they want the person to privately pay (out of their own pocket). These sources are usually quickly depleted by the monthly rates which average about $7,000 a month.
In your mother’s case, she used Medicare in her initial admission following the stroke, thereafter, she paid from her own funds but now that money is almost gone. Had she stayed where she was, she would simply have depleted her resources and an application for Medicaid would have been filed and she would have stayed right where she was. But that didn’t happen – instead she was discharged from that nursing facility.
The hospital’s discharge planner begins seeking a facility that will accept a Medicaid resident from the outset – no private pay, no Medicare billing. Almost all nursing homes are “dually certified” – that is, they accept Medicare and Medicaid patients. However, many of them limit the number of beds available to Medicaid patients. There is a therefore a shortage of certified Medicaid beds and the need is great.
But the discharge planner manages to find a bed for your mother after you indicate you can pay their private pay rate for two more months. So off mother goes to a new nursing facility. She is discharged from the hospital (to which she was never actually admitted!) and transported to the new facility.
Along with the little ditty bag of stuff from the hospital she carries is a discharge order and a list of medications. The med list now includes some things that were not on her regular regimen before. Among them are the antipsychotic medication, Seroquel. You notice that mom is much more agreeable, calmer and sleeps a lot more. That seems helpful to you. What no one notices is that Seroquel – and most of the other medications of this sort – carries a specific “black box” warnings about use in older adults. The warning reads something like this:
Elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis treated with antipsychotic drugs are at an increased risk of death. Seroquel is not approved for the treatment of patients with dementia-related psychosis
There are many potential negative side effects listed as well. Among them, are the increased risk for falls.
However, in a nursing home, the drugs are not administered in the same form we get them from retail pharmacies. Nurses never see the box or bottle the drugs come in, or the sheaf of fliers that come with them. Nursing facilities get “bubbled paks” for each patient from their own pharmacy or contracted pharmacy. So they never see the warnings.
The new nursing home is older, the carpet worn and dingy, the furniture nicked and upholstery faded. The walls are painted a dull blue and stained and marked up. It’s noisy, smelly and the only activity that is available on a regular basis is a big tv blaring very old movies and bingo every afternoon. The hot food is served on ice cold dishes and the cold food — iceberg lettuce masquerading as salad, jello, sherbet, cottage cheese and the like — is served on steaming hot dishes. Everything is stewed or looks like its stewed. All of the food is either over-salted or completely tasteless.
Mom is very complacent though. She sleeps a lot but doesn’t complain much. She has a lot pain so whenever she asks for it, they give her a narcotic painkiller for which her attending physician has written a PRN order or “as needed.” She is also labeled “high risk for fall” so she is no longer allowed to stand or try to walk and is restricted to a wheel chair and completely dependant on nurses aids to transfer her from bed to chair or chair to toilet. Her lack of activity and complacency about the food means she as begun to put on weight. She eats and snacks on sweets at every opportunity. To please her, you bring in more such treats when you visit.
The nursing facility is trying to turn a profit. They are limited by the fact that so many of their residents are Medicaid payors only. So, even more than any other nursing facility, such nursing homes attempt to make money by reducing expenses. The biggest expense is staff. They keep staffing levels so low that only the barest of care is able to be provided.
Lately, your mom has been having “accidents.” You mom is not incontinent. She can control her bladder fine but, because she must wait for aids to assist her to get to the toilet on time, she is wetting herself and the bed. Soon she is labeled “incontinent.” Rather than get her on the toilet on a regular interval, and unwilling to regularly change her and the bed, the aids now put her in an adult diaper day and night. Your Mom has become very docile and complacent on the drugs therefore they have no sense of urgency to see to her, she rarely rings the call bell anymore and never yells as she used to – she sometimes lays in a wet diaper for hours.
A year has come and gone since Mom first had her stroke. Mother’s Day is coming. You decide it would be a good idea to take Mom out for an outing, have a change of scenery, get some fresh springtime air. When the appointed Sunday arrives, you stop for some flowers at the grocery store and go to the nursing home early to help get Mom up and dressed. The aid has arrived to get her out of her diaper while you choose something nice to dress her in. Together, you and the aid turn her to sit her up and put her clothes on and to your horror you see large, gaping, raw sore on her tailbone. It is the size of coffee coaster, red and angry looking, seeping fluid.
Thanks to the lack of repositioning or movement, the constant weight on her backside, the skin breakdown from the urine and lack of cleaning or moisturizing of the skin, your mother has a giant bedsore.
This is completely preventable. Bedsores,(also called “pressure ulcers”) except in very limited circumstances, can be avoided by good skin care, repositioning and constant attention and inspection. Mom obviously has received none of this.
You race down to the nurses’ station and demand to speak to the unit manager. You raise holy hell. The Unit Manager, while sympathetic, is distracted by 3 phones ringing and several call bells going off, nods, says they’ll look into it and blows you off.
Monday morning, you call the director of nursing for an explanation. You leave three messages; all go unanswered. You call Mom’s attending physician’s office. They tell you they will send out the nurse practitioner to have a look and will call you back.
What are you to do now?
Tune in for Part IV! In which we explore the resources available to help you advocate for Mom.