Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

My COVID 19 sense of things

May 4th, 2020 5 comments

Crowd in Texas chants 'fire Fauci' as thousands across the country ...

How do we mesh these two images?  We don’t, because they don’t mesh.

I am a 71 year old nurse.  I graduated 50 years ago and our nursing school class was set to celebrate this year, but COVID 19 put an indefinite delay on that.  Who would have guessed any of us would see anything like this in our life times?

I have socially distanced with my husband and my dog for about 6 weeks now.  Early worries were about having enough food and toilet paper, but like most things those things have worked out.  My greater worry now is will our society condone that older citizens are disposable.  It seems that some sectors do believe exactly that.

While this pandemic continues to ravage some areas of our country and on a smaller scale, my home State of Maine, crazed citizens are loudly and in some cases threateningly demonstrating in our Capitols and on our streets to “open America”.  This is a chant that their hero, President Trump, has continually hammered home for weeks now.  He hasn’t grieved the over 60,000 dead or offered condolences or contacted any of the surviving families. Instead he repeatedly tells us we must open up, and at the same time he ignores the warnings about the steps to take that will make this opening safer for all of us.  He makes false claims that testing is robust, and huge numbers of citizens will be tested before opening. And he has repeatedly given all of us lousy medical advice, ie. injecting disinfectants to cure COVID.   More recently, his followers have said that the vulnerable (like me)  can continue to “isolate” if they don’t want to get infected and die.  Isn’t that special of them?  It seems a better approach would be to make it safe for all of us to be back to our normal lives eventually.

“Freedom” lovers want what they want…..crowded bars and sports games, all businesses open and rolling in dough.  I want that too.  I want everything to go back to normal, but I don’t want MY life, or my husbands or any of my loved ones lives sacrificed for it.  I am one of those libs, or cowards or Commies, whatever the gun toting, swastika carrying, ranting and raving lunatics call me…and I want my LIFE.  I want to live and I want to do it without the experience of COVID 19 and all of the perils it carries.

So, if we “Open America” without taking the necessary professionally recommended steps, who will die?  Well, if I don’t stay in my house all the time…ME.  I could die, and my husband could because we are seniors.  People who work in meat plants could die, because their bosses won’t be doing the recommended testing and other screening.  Some have already become ill, but our President used the Defense production act to make them reopen, regardless of the threat of more illness and death.  And of course nurses,doctors and other first responders are dying.  They have been forced to work without adequate Personal Protective Equipment, but the president would not invoke the Defense production act to get more PPE manufactured and distributed.  Instead he has set up a situation whereby States have been forced to find their own gear, and to compete against each other for needed medical equipment.  When governors ordered Chinese masks and they  arrived at a port of entry, they were seized by the federal government.  Then of course essential retail store workers will die.  Those familiar grocery and Walmart clerks will be at increased risk of the infection.  Prisoners and homeless people will die too.  People in Long Term care and assisted living facilities will also die, but according to some, this is an acceptable loss, because we need our freedoms.

If President Trump and his crazed gun lovin’ n totin’  demonstrators get their way, there will soon be campaign rallies again.  After all, it is his favorite thing to do…sucking up as much attention and adoration as he can.  Pack em’ in he says, and get them all riled up.  I am curious about that first rally.  Will there be social distancing?  Will they wear masks?  Will they screen people who are entering to see if they are sick?  Will they get sick after the rally because of exposure to COVID 19?  We know that ministers who bucked the advice of doing remote services, and insisted on in person salvation, caused COVID 19 outbreaks.  Will President Trumps rallies cause outbreaks and death of his supporters?

This is how I see it.  Vulnerable high risk individuals are put between a rock and a hard place. Workers from factories with known COVID 19 outbreaks,  illness and death..are being forced back to work. Inevitably some of them will die but Americans can’t do without their meat!  Old people like me will have to stay inside indefinitely to avoid infection.  Businesses small and large will be opening in the MIDST of this pandemic and the hardest hitting time of it, because being closed infringes on their “freedoms”.   A spike in COVID 19 cases is inevitable if we do not  “Open America” very carefully. I offer this warning to the demonstrators.   I’d bet, with confidence, that victims of this extremely horrifying infection beg for death at the end, and death is the ultimate “freedom”.  Is that what you want?  If so, they you can be the test cases for all of us.  I will stay safe by socially distancing for as long as it takes.

I don’t pretend to know all the answers, but I do know this.  We have amazing experts on infectious diseases in this country and the world,  who are making solid scientific recommendations to our President and to our country, that are being totally ignored.  Ignoring science is stupid.  People who don’t care about other people’s lives are ignoring pandemic science.   Yes, reopen, and do it soon. But do it gradually and cautiously by following the advice and steps of experts.  Don’t listen to the President because he ignores warnings and science, and he makes up his own narrative. Our lives do not mean a damn to him. Money and winning elections do!  And please, stop the asinine demonstrations.  Who the hell are they demonstrating against…a virus? dying people? caregivers?   That is just insanity.  You can’t stop a virus by shooting them with an AR 15.  Our State leaders, or at least most of them, are working extremely hard against some steep odds and with limited resources,  to do the best they can. Their priority is public health and the lives of their  residents.

As much as we may hate it, we are all in this together.  What we do as individuals can determine whether or not our neighbor lives or dies.  What we do as a society can determine whether or not whole sectors of our population live or die.    Give that some thought, settle down and do this right.

Overdose and Narcan. What would you do?

August 22nd, 2019 No comments

Image result for Narcan

Last week, while my husband Mike walked our little shih tzu, a car pulled in about 2 spaces over from our truck.  I watched while a young mother got her beautiful baby out of the back seat and her significant other (SO) got the umbrella stroller out.  The SO stayed back and I watched while mother and baby walked by.  That baby was beautiful.

The next thing I heard was the SO yelling to her “get back here right now.  He won’t wake up”.  Simultaneously, my husband arrived back with our pup and said, “there is some kind of trouble over there”.  He thought the trouble was with another child.  I immediately got out of the truck to see if I could be of assistance.  I always offer to help in medical emergencies, because I have the knowledge and the willingness to use it. Not everyone agrees with me that that is a good idea.

As I approached, I saw that the person who would not wake up was a young (26 years old) man seated in the back seat. He was the SOs younger brother.   His head was lolled onto his chest and he was completely non responsive and not breathing.  I advised him to lift his chin and straighten his neck to see if he would breath.  He did not. I asked if his brother used drugs and he said yes. I noticed a tightly rolled $100 bill in his hand and assumed he had snorted something very recently.   He vigorously rubbed his chest and slapped his face, no response. I checked his radial pulse and it was strong, regular and a good rate.  It remained so all during this horrible event.   In the meantime the lady had EMS/911 on the phone.  They got the needed information and had help on the way.  Then they gave her step by step instructions to relay to her SO to do CPR.  He lifted him from the car and onto the ground.  This was the first time for him.  He was incredibly heroic for his brother.  He did mouth to mouth respirations and I watched the young victims chest rise and fall. He then did compressions…stating “I am losing my shit here”.  I encouraged him and said he was doing an tremendous job.  I continued check his pulse and stimulate the victim and eventually he only slightly opened his eyes and moved.  EMS arrived and took over.  They gave him Narcan intramuscular.  The young man immediately woke up.  He was placed on a stretcher and taken away.

I walked away to my car.  I was an emotional wreck and began to cry, with relief, frustration and disgust.  I was relieved that the young man woke up, even though he would go to jail after medical treatment at St Joseph hospital.. He had only been out 2 days and was on parole. This will be one more opportunity for him to get clean and sober.  I was frustrated that I couldn’t get on my knees (arthritis) and do more to help with CPR and that I did not have Narcan to give him immediately.  I was disgusted with the entire opioid epidemic and the loss of young lives, just like this young man.

A young female police officer came to our truck and asked our names and addresses.  I asked her how many times she sees this. She said it was her first one that day, but she had just started her shift.  She said average was 2 a day, right here in Bangor, ME…a small city and only one police officer of many.

Then the young mother came to us before we left and thanked me for helping.  I told her that her SO did everything that needed doing and he did a great job. He is a good man and a good brother.  I knew how frightened he was.  She told me that the young man would be going back to jail.  They hadn’t seen him for 2 years, and they spotted him in a Bangor park and picked him up.  She didn’t know he had done drugs until this all happened.

I learned 2 things that day.  I need to get Narcan and learn about using it.  It is available without a prescription for free at any Maine pharmacy according to the Bangor Fire Department.  The local Health Equity Alliance teaches about using it and I have already made an appointment to go with a friend to learn about it.  It is a nasal spray, but there are instructions and precautions that people need to learn.  If I had had it on me that day, we could have administered it immediately and avoided doing CPR, although he still would have had to go to the hospital.

I also learned that I need to get a new CPR mask/barrier to carry.  I’m not sure I could have used it that day because he was on the ground, but there may come a circumstance that I could, and I would like to be prepared.  I could also have offered it to this victims brother to use.

These two items are essential when helping unresponsive people who are not breathing in the community, and my plan is to have them with me at all times soon.  However,  I hope I never encounter this kind of situation again.

I ran this experience by a group of nurses on Facebook.  The discussion was alarming.  Most agreed that I did the right thing to help this young man and his brother.  Others said they would never give Narcan in the field/community.  They worried about liability and possibly a violent reaction from the victim.  I was blown away.  I know in my heart that I could not stand by and withhold something…my skills, my knowledge and a freely available and effective medication…all tools that could save a life!  I have stopped at accidents, and helped sick or injured people on airplanes and in stores, at conferences, etc.  I don’t always do a lot, and sometimes I just stand by, but how could a nurse walk past something like what I saw?

What would you do?  How would you handle this?  I am very interested to hear from some of you who read this.



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Warehousing of the Elderly, Part 6

June 27th, 2019 No comments

The young physician’s assistant met me in Mum’s room on April 3.  She was bright, and thorough.  She found a cerumen (wax) impaction in Mum’s Rt hear, so that may be compromising her hearing  in that ear. It takes many months for wax to build up to that degree and it makes me wonder why it was missed at her Assisted living. They will use Debrox and irrigation to clear Mum’s ear.    She also said she would order blood work to follow up on her low blood sodium and high blood potassium levels.  It sounded reasonable to me.  I find that Mum continues to be sleepy most of the time, but she awakens when touched and spoken to loudly.  Her caregivers have told me how great she is doing, helping with her own hygiene and toileting. One even said she pushed herself up and down the hallway in her wheelchair.  Considering Mum’s level of somnolence and weakness,  I’m not sure I totally believed that she went in the hallway at all.  I have been visiting Mum every day at different times of day, excluding early mornings.  So, perhaps she has more energy in the mornings, that I haven’t witnessed.

April 4, 2019  I went in to visit close to lunchtime.  Mum was upright in her wheelchair sound asleep, which seems to be the usual.  An occupational therapist came in and said that she had gone to the dining room for breakfast, but the CNA said she had difficulty eating and spilled her food and drinks on herself.  The plan was to take her back this noontime.  She was barely awake.

The occupational therapist came for us to go to the dining room for lunch.  I was seated next to Mum at a dining room table while we waited for her food.  I laid out a hand of solitaire to see if it sparked any interest.  She continued to sleep, with her head lolled onto her chest.  A full tray of food was delivered.  I woke her but she went right back to sleep.  I tried to get her to hold a fork, but her hand fell.  Then to OT came back and sat next to her in my chair, prodding her and urging her to eat.  I know this is her job, but considering Mum’s condition, and deteriorating health,  I found this undignified and I truly believe it is disrespectful.  I had to leave because it was too painful to watch. My mother is a very private and proud woman.

I got a call from Mum’s PA that afternoon.  She was alarmed that Mum’s blood sodium is so low at 117.  She said that this could explain the somnolence and weakness, but it also could lead to seizures.  As I have observed and guessed,  Mum is very very sick.  So, the choices were to give her IV saline in the facility or take her back to the hospital.  I chose the first option.  If she gets sicker, we may have to make a decision about moving her to the hospital. Why is life (and death) so cruel?

When I returned to the facility later in the afternoon, the nurse was setting up Mum’s IV.  As always, she was sound asleep, but comfortably so in her bed.  Apparently she woke up long enough to ask the nurse “What the hell are you doing?”   I expressed my concerns to the RN about Mum being hauled off to a Family meeting that she slept through and to a dining room full of people who were awake and feeding themselves  where she was  being prodded to eat while she slept upright in the wheelchair.  Everyone except my mother was awake and alert.  I told her I was so hurt to see them do this undignified thing to my mother.  I want her treated with dignity and respect, and common sense.  If she is somnolent, she will not eat.  If she is weak she will not lift a fork.  Let her rest.  Give her ice cream, pudding, boost, juices, water…things that she can handle when she is alert…..and forget about getting her to eat a full course meal with noodles, meat, and sliced beats , or even dry chocolate cake!  It will not work.  It will not help.  It is disrespectful, impractical and just wrong. My sense is that these well meaning therapists and assistants need to learn some lessons about Patient/Person centered care.  Recognizing the patient in front of them with all of their idiosyncrasies and specific needs and abilities is essential to quality and effective care.

This nurse understood. She has 30 years of geriatrics under her belt.  She said that on her watch she will not allow those things to happen to my Mom.  She encouraged me to speak up and advocate for my mother because nobody else will.  She is so right.

I don’t want to alienate my mothers caregivers, because they are dedicated professionals,  but I must speak up for her.  I am prepared for any outcome, and I am pretty sure which one to expect.  In the meantime, I want her to be comfortable and treated with respect and dignity.

April 5…..I will go see Mum this morning.

Warehousing the Elderly Part 5, The Family Meeting April 2

May 15th, 2019 No comments

April 2.  I got a call on April 1 to set up the Family Meeting.  Apparently this is part of every new Stillwater Health care patients admission.    The social worker, RN , Physical Therapist, and I will all be there.  My younger brother will be called in on a conference line.  I will meet one of them in Mum’s room at 230 today.

I hope I am prepared.  I have written my concerns on paper to try to organize them.  I have also listed all of her health and dementia issues, her likes and dislikes, diet needs and preferences, usual activities, etc.   I have spent a lot of time at the Assisted Living facility and I have done my best to keep abreast of Mum’s current status, in all things.  That was with no help from the Assisted Living staff.  I don’t think they really knew much at all about what Mum was up to, and if they did, they did not communicate it to me.   Not to rehash old grievances, but they simply did not have the time because of short staffing.

I met the Occupational Therapist in Mum’s room at 230pm.  While I sat there alone waiting for them, Mum napped in her bed.   While she napped, she chewed like she had something in her mouth.  When the OT got her up, she made her spit out some ground up meat that was in her mouth from lunch.  This is a bad sign that she is not chewing and swallowing well.  Holding this food in her mouth is called pocketing.   It is part of end stage dementia. Mum acts like she is in pain when she sits then stands.  Once in the chair, she just nodded off again, and I wondered if this wasn’t a bit cruel and pointless to bring her to our meeting.  But she was wheeled into a small conference room with us to attend.

The meeting was about an hour long.  We discussed her hearing, fatigue, lack of interest in food, difficulty swallowing, and other things.  The Occupational therapist seems to have hope that she can do well.  They will continue rehabilitation level of care for one more week, and at that time will determine whether or not to continue or change her level of care to Long Term Care, with less intensity of Occupational and Physical rehab focus.  She would remain in the same room, but with a different level of care, and a different payment source.  This would mean applying for Mainecare/Medicaid.  Medicare pays for rehabilitation but not for Long Term Care.

Mum was completely exhausted and disinterested in this meeting and she slept through most of it. Even so, the group set goals for her to be accomplished through PT and OT.    I was quite surprised that they brought her there in her wheelchair.  She had been napping peacefully when it was time, and she continued to nap while sitting upright in her wheelchair.    At the end of the meeting someone ordered her a small bowl of green jello and I spoon fed her the whole thing, but she lost much of it down the front of her pretty top.  This is such a drastic and frightening change from my mothers usual demeanor and level of health and engagement.

I got the names and contact information for all of the participants.  And I spent some time after it was over talking with the social worker.  She is also a Millinocket girl and we had that connection.  I gave out my business cards at the meeting and she wanted me to explain my volunteer work in patient safety.  I told her about my patient safety advocacy and I also told her I was writing a blog about Mum’s journey.  She said, “so, you are putting us on notice”.  I told her “not necessarily” but yes, I expect safe high quality care.   However, I do not expect miracles.   This was not a contentious conversation but expectations were laid out and very clear.  She was very receptive and said she would look at my webpage.

I asked when I could actually meet the facility doctor in person and they said to be there at 10am next day to meet with the PA from Penobscot Community Health Care.  This is the same Geriatrics practice that cared for Mum at Winterberry Heights.  I’ve had both  good and bad experiences with that practice.  In just under 4 years, the visiting geriatric NPs changed several times.  The various Geriatric Nurse Practitioners who visited Mum in Assisted Living knew that Mum has dementia and is a poor historian about her health, her problems and other issues.  I  asked in the past to be included somehow in their visits or at least get a call about any visits.  That rarely happened. I often learned about their visits to her when  I got her Medicare statements in the mail explaining the insurance coverage of the visits.  I wondered about the value of those visits. You cannot learn everything about a patient with blood and urine tests (which were often performed) without the benefit of an accurate history of symptoms.   I  hope it will be different at Stillwater Healthcare and that PCHC will have open communications with me.

Next, the PA’s visit with Mum…..


Warehousing the Elderly Part 4 Rehabilitation

April 23rd, 2019 No comments

Note:  I have decided to continue writing about my mother’s final journey,  in hopes that others can learn and better navigate their own end of life.

March 28.  I am starting to have hope.  I may  have to change the title of Part 4.  Mum’s new caregivers at Stillwater Healthcare are not warehousing her, they genuinely seem to care.  These CNAs are sweet, young, energetic and kind. The RNs and LPNs by in large also seem involved and caring.  They know more about Mum in just a few days than any of the assistants at the assisted living facility ever did in almost 4 years.  They care about what she likes to do, to eat, to read and to play (cards games if she gets better).  They are working to accommodate her hearing loss..writing notes if she can’t hear them, making sure her amplifier is in and that they speak loudly.  They suggested a TV with subtitles. They are even trying to accommodate her napping schedule.

Mum was delivered to a bed by the window at Stillwater Healthcare on March 28.  She accustomed to a big apartment with separate living room, dining area, kitchenette and bedroom with bath.  She now shares a modestly sized room with a roommate.  Her roommate is non verbal but she screams.  It is not her fault and my heart breaks for Mums roommate, but it is very difficult to both deal with Mums challenges and this screaming.   Mums hearing loss is quite convenient now, because this does not disturb her.  I can’t say the same for me.   Mum seems content, but also very tired and confused.  She is unable to manage an apartment anymore , and she is certainly too weakened to get around in one.  These new digs are small, clean and organized.  She has a tiny bureau and closet, and bathroom.  Her walker and wheelchair take up any leftover space.  There is one chair for any visitors.  Things fit  there kind of like a puzzle, but the staff works to keep it neat and organized.

My early impressions about this rehab/nursing home is that the staff is professional, caring and kind.  They are meeting her new dependency and needs with skill and efficiency.  Her CNAs do most of the hands on care.  Mum is up and dressed each day in her own clothes in warm layers.  She looks brighter and cleaner than I have seen her in a while. Right now her food is served to her in her room.  She is eating very little, but is certainly spending more time up out of bed each day.  One day she is  engaged and curious, but the next she may be sleeping and not eating.  Her health,status and progress is a roller coaster ride for sure, and I know I need to be prepared for any outcome.

I want her healthy, funny, sassy and asking questions again.  I hope the staff and my frequent visits can accomplish this, but she is almost 93, and it could go either way.  And if she is just too worn out for recovery, I don’t want it forced.  She has been my strong amazing and healthy Mum for a very long time.  She deserves a good rest, or a recovery, whichever comes.  I will be appreciative to this staff for either.  They seem to be doing their absolute best for Mum.

Next.  The Family meeting……….

Warehousing the Elderly Part 3 moving on to the hospital

April 6th, 2019 1 comment

On March 25, two Resident Assistants at Winterberry Heights helped me to load my Mom into my car and bundle her up to take her to St Joseph Hospital Emergency Department.  I brought along the urine sample in case it could be used.   It was a relief to see WH in my rear view mirror.  My husband, son, and brother would spend a good part of the next three days moving my mothers belongings out of Winterberry Heights.  Also, later I picked up her medications which she had paid for.  When I got them home I found 3 full cards of bubble packed prescription medications that belonged to a different resident.  Big mistake, and a very careless mistake.  We returned them that day.

At St Joes I asked for help to get her out of the car and into the building.  Both of the nurses wore masks and I asked immediately if there was an outbreak of flu or anything else there, because I feared for my elderly mother.  I was assured that they just wear the masks as a precaution.  She was delivered to registration, where they could not find any of her old information in the computer because they entered a space between the two Cs in her name.  Because of that, she ended up with 2 separate medical records that had to be merged to one….at least I hope they did that eventually.

She was immediately taken to an ER exam room, where she was gently helped onto the stretcher.  Her triage nurse and her primary ER nurse were both men and both very professional and skilled.  She got blood work, IVs inserted, straight catheterization, chest and left leg xray.  She has pneumonia in her Right lung.  That would certainly answer why she was feeling so weak and poorly most of the week.

Mum was admitted to the Hospital as an inpatient (as opposed to a Medicare Observation patient).  This was a relief because I was pretty certain she would need at least rehabilitation if not long term memory care. There is a trick with Medicare that they will not pay for rehab if the patient as not been admitted as an “inpatient” and been in the hospital for 3 midnights.   Her young foreign doctor was very kind and thorough.  I was pleased that they did not do a lot of expensive and unnecessary testing, and he considered Mum’s age and condition in all decisions.

She was moved to the 6th floor, where she spent 3 days.  She was cared for by RNs, CNAs and nursing students.  Each and every one of them were respectful, funny, engaging, kind and skilled.  They all work very hard.  This work is not for sissies.   I had no complaints about Mum’s care there except that she was left upright in her chair for far too long one afternoon.  She was extremely exhausted.  Also, she got a stage 2 pressure bedsore on her tailbone that we hope will heal and not get bigger or deeper.  The sore was first noticed later, on admission to Stillwater Healthcare.

On days 2 and 3, Mum perked up a bit.  She got a little testy and sassy. When I told her to be a “good girl” when I left one afternoon, she stuck her tongue out at me (this is a little ongoing joke between us).  Also when I was leaving another time, she asked me what the syringe full of saline on her over bed stand was.  I picked it up and said it was a SHOT and I  teased her that I was going to give her a SHOT.  She looked at me and began fiddling with her hands and fingers and finally with a lot of effort, she flipped me off!  That’s my mother and her wicked sense of humor.

OT, PT and Speech therapy all evaluated Mum at St Joes.  She was extremely weak ,but they gently helped and encouraged  her to walk with a walker, to the bathroom.  The speech therapist recommended soft solids and liquids for diet because of a swallowing test they did on her.  We do not want to risk another pneumonia from aspiration.

The Social worker and nurse case manager both worked hard to get Mum into Stillwater Healthcare which was the facility of my choice for her rehabilitation.  I have heard good things from family members who have had people cared for there, and it is literally 2 minutes from my home.  I am so exhausted by now that I need things to be a little more convenient.

A very kind gentleman with a wheelchair came for Mum, and took her to the wheelchair transport van. He transferred Mum to Stillwater Healthcare on March 28.  Next chapter……..

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Warehousing the Elderly, Part 2

April 4th, 2019 No comments

My Mom has been a resident of Winterberry Heights Assisted Living and Memory Care in Bangor, ME for almost 4 years.  She has dementia that has progressed over that time, but generally,  she has remained physically independent. She had an emergency call button on a lanyard around her neck, but she never used it because she never asked for anything.  One of the RAs told me the only thing she ever asked her for was toilet paper, and she shouldn’t have had to ask for even that!    She started using a walker around Christmastime 2017, after a bout with the flu and a hospitalization. When Mum became ill with the flu that year, nobody told me.  I monitored her and stayed with her every day until she was so ill I took her to the St Joseph Hospital.  She spent 3 days there over Christmas in 2017.  WH was on lock down for flu at that time, and I was not informed about it.  I only learned it by walking into it.   When Mum was discharged from St Joe’s, she got outpatient nursing, Occupational and Physical Therapy from St Joseph Hospital Home Nursing services at that time, and they did a tremendous job with her. It took a call to a doctor I knew from my work to get those services to Mum immediately.  The first 2 referrals, one from her Nurse Practitioner, and one from WH director, would have forced Mum to wait for over a week for her first OT/PT assessment.  It was Christmastime after all.  My expectations for continued care for my mother were superseded by the holidays.

During her lifetime, she has always been health conscious.  She walked a lot, outside most of the year, and on a treadmill when the weather was bad.  She attended TOPS (Take off Pounds Sensibly) to keep her weight in check.  So, even after she started using a walker, she would walk outside at WH when weather permitted.  We removed her treadmill after she tripped and fell about 3 years ago.  That fall was because an electrical cord was in the way, and we did not want to chance a fall from her treadmill.  Mum has essentially been like the EverReady Bunny…and we often joked about that.

This is what happened to my Mom at Winterberry Heights last week.

March 18. I went to visit her at 2pm.   She was in bed, in her nightclothes, and there was no sign of a lunch tray having been brought to her room. Her newspaper was still on the floor in the hallway. I wondered if anyone at all had looked in on her before my visit.   I already knew that she had stopped fixing her own breakfasts recently and so she routinely did not eat breakfast.  She was never interested in getting up, dressed  and down the hall to the dining room by 8am, right from her first days at WH.  So, it was most likely that she had not eaten anything that day so far.  She was confused and unaware of the day or time or if she had eaten.  She got up to the bathroom and then to her recliner with my help and she wanted something to eat.  She said she wasn’t sick, she was “just being lazy”.  But, of course with no recall, I can’t always rely on what she says.

I went to the staff and asked about her and express my concerns about her state.  After asking about her 3 times to three different people, I got several different stories, and finally after an hour and 3 requests, an assistant delivered a turkey sandwich and about 2 oz of apple juice. Then she ate a little something and drank juice and water.

I visited a second time that day at supper time and she ate a little bit then, and did not recall feeling ill.  I wrote an email to the facility director about my concerns about Mum and her response came the next day.

Hi Kathy,

I know your mum has been checked on and had not felt well the past few days.

I will pass this to nursing to respond to you.

Nursing (LPN as well as RN) who have been monitoring Gerry and the direct care staff I have witnessed bringing meals and beverages to her room .

Thank you for sharing,

We will follow up with you soon.


This was the first I had heard of her “not feeling well”, and Penny’s nurses never called me about anything. Communications from WH were pretty much non existent and I only learned about Mum’s issues by going there frequently. That is how I learned about the flu outbreak there, and how I learned that her blood pressures had not been checked every day for 2 weeks after her NP ordered it.  A few years ago, she had a change in her blood pressure medications and needed close BP monitoring.

The activities director told me on March 19  that Mum had missed just that one meal , yesterday’s lunch, in the past 3 days, and she knows because she was doing dining room duty over those days.  So, who was telling the truth?  Who knows?  I believe the activities director keeps close watch on all of the residents and she knows.

The next day March 19, I visited at the same time, and she had gotten dressed, and walked down to the dining room lunch, so I figured she had  simply had a bad day before.

I relaxed a little.

Then Friday March22 I visited and Mum really seemed “off”.  She was confused, and she was having a really hard time getting up from her kitchen table , where she sat having her in room lunch.  I got her settled into her recliner and went to the desk and asked about her again.  I came back to the room with the RN.  I had asked her to check her vital signs, her blood pressure, pulse oxygen level, pulse.   She had already checked her temperature and all were normal.  She told me she was going to get an order for a urine test to see if she might have an infection.  Because infections without obvious symptoms can cause confusion and weakness in the elderly,  I felt that was a good plan and I left Mum napping that day.  The nurse never got the order and no test was done.  I’m afraid I dropped the ball on that because I trusted the RN to handle it.  I should have known better.

Saturday March 23 Mum seemed a little better.  She had her meals in her room and she ate most of it.  She needed some help to her recliner, but she seemed brighter and better.  I was however worried about her weakness.

Sunday March 24 morning I got a call at 11am, that Mum had fallen between her bed and her bureau. They didn’t know how long she was down, but she was not unconscious.  They said there were no cuts except a small nick on her shoulder blade, and a bruise there.  I went to WH immediately.  I checked her all over, front, back, top to bottom and she seemed unharmed, except for the bruise.  I spent most of my day with her and helped her with her lunch and dinner and she ate fairly well.  But she seemed “off” again.  I asked about the urine test.  None had been done, No order had every been given.  So, I asked for a urine cup and a urine strip to test it and I would do it myself.  The CMA cannot take a verbal order over the phone for  urinalysis test, even though I called and argued with the NP and PCHC to give one.   With great difficulty, I obtained a urine sample and the dip strip test was normal.  I stored the urine in the fridge because I made an “appointment” for Mum to see the visiting NP at 930am the next morning.

I stayed until Mum was settled after her supper.  She was in her recliner lift chair, with an afghan, and a glass of water by her side on a chair side table.  Her walker was right next to her.   I was  absolutely assured by the CMAs and RAs that because she had fallen, she would be checked every hour.  So, I left to go home, taking the staff at their word, and trusting that they would help her to bed.

winterberry winterberry1


(note distance between the red chair and the needed walker and of course the broken glass in between.  there is also a photo of Mum that I took that morning,  but in respect to her I will not post that)






I arrived at WH at 9am March 25.  Mum was in the same spot, with the same clothes on, very somnolent, her chair side table knocked over, broken glass on the floor, her walker out of reach, and no afghan over her.  She was extremely sleepy. Her bed had not been slept in and no sign that any food had been brought in.   Once I determined that she was OK for a few minutes,   I stormed down to the desk, and clearly and loudly told them what condition I had found her and her room.  I told them this was lousy care and blatant neglect.  This was NOT acceptable by any stretch of the imagination.  At first I thought I would wait for the NP visit, but when she hadn’t even arrived at the building by 950 for my 930 “appointment”, I hustled my Mom out of there and brought her to St Joseph Hospital.  This morning was the culmination and the epitome of broken promises….the appointment time, the every 1 hour checks, the urine test, nurse contact, and on and on and on.   I was disgusted by all of this because my mother is precious to me.

She will never set foot in that place again.  Although I do not blame Winterberry Heights for my mother’s illness, they will  not get a second chance to neglect or harm her.

The Resident assistant was extremely sad about what happened, and so was the CMA.  Both cried a little.  The RA said she was responsible for that entire floor, approximately 30 to 40 residents and 15 of them needing lift assist.  She also said that her orders from the director were to be in and out of those rooms in 5 minutes.   None of this was her fault or the CMAs fault.  This is Corporate neglect, and profiteering….off these vulnerable elderly people and their families and off these hard working people who really do care and cannot possibly meet the needs of that many people needing attention.

So, my intention is to first help my Mom get better. She is 93 and has pneumonia that did not present any symptoms other than intermittent and increasing weakness and low appetite.  She needs rehab and Long Term Care.  She needs me.

Second, I intend to expose Corporate minions like the lying, false promising director of WH and her Corporation.  Private Assisted Living is a business, to make money.  It is not to “care” for anyone.  They should not be allowed to falsely advertise (verbally or otherwise)  services that they do not hire enough people to perform.  They should not be allowed to accept people with needs beyond their staffing abilities and capabilities.  This is corporate greed  that results in abuse and neglect of the elderly. Shame on them.  This is extortion of old people’s money and their families’ inheritances. under false pretenses.  This should be criminal.

These current events all happened to Mum within just several months of my meeting with Penny about the numerous Maine DHHS violations that resulted in a provisional license to operate just last year.  Many of those violations were services that were promised to me and my mother, that were not in place, like a full time RN on staff.  They went months without an RN on staff.   During my hour long meeting with Penny about the State of Maine violations, I was promised the moon…everything would be fixed, heads would roll, and they would be fully licensed again.   I had my doubts.  I have met many Pennys in my lifetime and I have learned that nobody is that perfect.  I hoped for the best of course, because I wanted the best for Mum.  But I was spot on with my impression of Penny.  Somehow, they did regain State Licensure.  I can’t imagine how..perhaps by just glossing things over while inspectors were there.  Or, maybe by falsifying records of things that were not really done.

Part 3 will be about Mum’s hospitalization.  Long road ahead.



Warehousing our Elderly Part 1

April 3rd, 2019 No comments









Nobody deserves compassionate gentle and attentive care more than our elderly.  They cared for us, our families, our kids and sometimes even our pets, and they deserve the best in their time of need.

My mother is nearly 93.  She was a full time mother and homemaker and would proudly say  “this is MY job”. There is no doubt that she excelled at her job.   She cooked big nutritious meals well into her 80s, at that time for my Dad.  He died in 2009, and her cooking pretty much stopped.  She claimed she had ‘retired’.    She gave birth to me and two brothers,  taught us, nursed us, and nurtured us.  She knit, crocheted, sewed, kept a spotless home, reupholstered furniture, painted walls and house trim, gardened, played, swam, fished, played cards, played piano,  and attended church on every Sunday and Holy Day.  She loved the water, swimming, boating, fishing and camping and a loud family party was always welcomed…food, drink, swimming or dancing.  In their day, she and Dad could really cut a rug and I can picture them to this day dancing at my own wedding.

She always had a wicked sense of humor and she was also a very strict mother…something that I didn’t always appreciate.  But, in her eyes, I have become a “good girl”.  I suppose that is so.

Just to be very clear, she is considered royalty in her extended family.   She is the youngest of 10 children, 7 rowdy brothers and 2 sweetheart sisters. She is the only sibling left and she has lived longer than any of them.   Her Dad died when she was just 13, and her Mom lived on  for many more years. Mums mother suffered with mental health issues, but she remained in her own home and the local sons checked in on her and brought her what she needed.    Mum and her Mom relied on those older siblings for a lot of things.  They took care of each other and they were a fun loving faithful and extremely entertaining and talented family.

Mum married Dad in her early 20s and had my brother and me not long after. She also had one full term stillborn baby, and finally 18 years after me, my younger brother was born.  She was 42 then.  They survived poverty because of Dads hard work in a paper mill and some loans from family, and they built a comfortable life for themselves and us.  They cleared a lot and built their own home from the ground up in 1955.  Mum did most of the painting and decorating herself, including making lined draperies, curtains, and bedspreads, and reupholstering furniture.  They lived at 18 Winter St in Millinocket, ME  for over 60 years.

So, when Mum started showing signs of dementia within a few years of Dad passing, it was alarming and so very difficult to process.  She was the strong one.  She saw Dad through his last weeks and months, dying because of Hospital Acquired MRSA and ongoing health issues.  She went to him every single day for the three months while he was hospitalized and then in the nursing home.  He only wanted her.   Now she needed us, to help her and to guide her through her last years of life.  She had no children living locally, like her Mom before her. And, she had no desire to move in with her kids.

Mum very reluctantly left her home of over 60 years and has spent almost 4 years in Assisted Living here 5 miles from my home in Bangor, Maine. Even with her level of dementia, she has never forgotten her “home” and asked about it constantly. Sadly, I think she held me responsible for the loss of her own home.  Of course, as her POA, I was responsible, but I did it with her safety and well being in mind.   That house has been long since sold to a new family.    My brother and I chose Winterbery Heights after looking at only 2 places. The other one was dirty, it stunk and the room was horrible…all for the same price.  This one was certainly attractive and clean.  It smelled nice. There were nice big windows and a lot of natural light.  The staff was very welcoming and friendly offering a “Red Carpet” welcome. It was the Taj Mahal of local assisted living facilities.   I have learned since that some of that glossy facade was deceiving and a lure, but there are certainly some exceptionally caring people employed by this place.  I must give those workers credit.  I have seen them work until they are red faced and sweaty  caring for those elders.  Staff faces changed all the time and only a very few of the staff from 4 years ago is still there. I stopped trying to learn and remember their names.   I should have seen their staffing turnover as a warning.  I assume that the ones who aren’t there anymore were either worked to death or they just moved on.  The new director (the fourth one in 4 years) is also known for firing people at the drop of a hat, so I am sure that accounts for some of the more recent staff turnover.

I learned two important things during  Mums assisted living experience.  Appearances are not everything, and you cannot expect excellent services just because a place looks nice. Also,  Assisted Living is not a level of health care.  And one cannot expect and rely on caring, particularly if there is any decline in the resident’s strength or health.  Basically, it is a hugely expensive rent with housekeeping, meals and a passing “look in” or reminder a few times a day, if that. That housekeeping is limited to vacuuming, bed changing, trash removal and bathroom cleaning.  The kitchenette was filthy with dirty dishes, a sticky countertop and a mold clogged drain all the time, until I could get there to clean it.  There was a layer of dust on everything.  Furniture was not moved to clean underneath.  If things fell onto the floor and it wasn’t in the middle of the floor, it did not get picked up. There was always a clutter of used tissues, candy wrappers and other debris around her lift chair and her bed.   Until just recently I also had to do her laundry.  After they started doing it because I nagged so much about it, many of her favorite clothing items and linens disappeared or were ruined.    They do however poke pills into the residents regularly, because they make $500 extra a month for each resident. So, early on,  to save Mum money I organized her medications myself for about 2 and a half years.  They were poured into 28 day pill organizers, two of them, one for AM and one for PM meds.  But, she started forgetting to take them, sometimes for several days at a time.  I couldn’t rely on the staff to remind her and because I poured them, they could not legally take them out and hand them to her.

If the resident is ill or having a bad day or week. they may be left in bed without food most of the day.  If the resident “refuses” to change their clothes or go to bed, they will not “force” them, meaning they will not take the time to cajole or convince them that this is the safest and most comfortable thing to do. I have to say (in defense of the direct care staff)  they do not take the time because they are understaffed and they do not have the time.   Food may or may not be delivered when the resident cannot walk to the dining room. I can’t recall the number of times I have had to request an in room food tray for Mum on the days she isn’t up to the walk to the dining room.    Unless the resident has a regular advocate or visitor, there probably will be neglect (unfed, unclean, not cared for) and that is what I found at my mother’s place this past week.  I don’t blame the RAs (Resident Assistants).  I blame the greedy for profit corporation that makes each of them “care” for 35 or 40 residents at a time for days and months at a time, with up to 15 of them needing to be lifted out of bed, the toilet, or chair. They are called lift assist residents.    The Corporate owner of Winterberry Heights is Hawthorn Retirement.  When a director assigns too many residents to the RA and then tells them, “I want you in and out of those rooms in 5 minutes”  that is a direct order from the corporate voice that will result in neglect or harm to residents. It is a set up for neglect.  It is a clear message that their job is to generate money for the Corporation.  They accept residents (and their checks) who they cannot care for adequately with existing staff,  to fill up the rooms and make a ton of money.  They make promises they do not keep and they should not be allowed to even house residents with needs beyond what they can  deliver.  Mum’s “care” plan was one of the lowest priced ones at $4230 per month.  All of her life savings was spent on assisted living.

Assisted Living is not health CARE.  Residents and families should be made aware of this right from the get go. Empty promises are just to get you in the door and to give them the first check for rent.  There will be many exaggerated and then broken promises of “care”.

My mother, and your elderly loved ones deserve better.

I will write about what happened to my Mom in a second part of this blog.  This was just part 1.


This is how I would stop HAIs

January 9th, 2019 1 comment








People ask me what I would do to help stop Hospital acquired infections. It’s been 10 years today since my father died of HAI. Right after he was infected with MRSA, I started researching the causes, the prognosis, the incubation period, prevention, spread and prevalence of these infections. The subject is complex and broad, but these are a few of my ideas about how we can actually make a huge dent in this problem.


1. Get a more accurate count of infections and the deaths caused by them and make it public. Transparency and accountability will lead to better funding and actions to stop this scourge.

a. Develop a way for patients or their family members to report their own infections, because we know hospitals and other healthcare facilities are not reporting all of their infections

b. Require that all infections that contribute to a death, be listed as a cause of death (COD) on death certificates in every State.

2. Require Hospitals/LTCs/Dialysis centers/Surgical Centers to post any current outbreaks on their websites and in plain view for incoming patients.

a. “Outbreak” must be defined first.  Currently ‘outbreak’ means something different according to what infection is being discussed.

3. Rapid screen patients for MRSA and other common infections on emergency admission, or a week in advance of planned admissions. Practice Universal precautions without exception. Postpone elective surgery until the patient has been decolonized.  Contact precautions must be followed without exception for all MRSA colonized and infected patients. All other precautions according to the offending infection must be followed to a tee, by all staff and visitors and this must be enforced.

4. Put everyone in their own room, preventing spread of infection from one patient to another in the same room.

5. Clean up Hospitals and the equipment in them. Assign each patient their own frequently used equipment, ie. Blood pressure cuffs, wheelchairs, walkers, etc.

6. Handwashing all around every time, before and after touching,  nurses, doctors, xray and lab  techs, visitors, and anyone else who touches patients.

7. Help patients to understand their own role in prevention of infections, examples are  handwashing, general hygiene, covering wounds, good nutrition/hydration, covering coughs, not wearing slippers that have been on dirty floors into their bed.

8. Give the Federal and State CDCs regulatory powers. This way, instead of writing recommendations, they can write requirements. Every hospital that is held accountable for infections that they caused, will say “we met the CDC recommendations” and/or “We met the standards of care”.  And they may have met some of them, but certainly not all of them because they don’t’ have to…none of the recommendations are mandated.

Also, the CDC would not have to wait until crisis to go into places with known problems. An invitation would not be needed. Places with known infection outbreaks and/or ongoing infection issues could be visited and problems remedied without waiting for permission to enter. Not a single patient should become infected because the CDC is waiting for an invitation to help the facility.

9. Stop paying Hospitals and other Healthcare facilities for the costs of these infections.  Nobody should have to pay ONE PENNY for an infection they caught while in a facility. Penalties are not enough.  Stop payment from any source patients, insurances or the Federal Government.



This is my short list of ideas. They were gleaned from all sorts of experts and meetings on the subject of infections.  If these things had been in play when my father was hospitalized for rehab for a simple ankle fracture, I sincerely believe his infection would have been prevented.  Two other community members had already died of hospital acquired MRSA infection the same month he was admitted. No outbreak was declared and nothing was ever reported on a State level about that.  No extra precautions or steps were taken to stop the hospital MRSA outbreak.  There was no consistency with handwashing, gloving or precautions even after his infection was diagnosed.  With some hard work and dedication to patients, we can stop this from happening to others.

Merry Christmas!

December 20th, 2018 No comments

See the source image


I turn into mush at Christmas time.  I start to think about past Christmases and people I miss, like my father, and friends and family that I never see anymore.  The nature of my work in Patient Safety keeps me concerned and angry a lot of the time, but  I have a hard time maintaining that during the holidays.  Recently I had to take  a break from a social media page, just because  of the griping, anger and finger pointing.

I have been reflecting on the people and things I am grateful for in my life.  I must be getting old and sentimental.  That’s ok, it’s good to say out loud who you appreciate.  Because so many of my recent conversations have been about nurses I am going talk about the nurses  in my life that I have been grateful for.

My aunt was a nurse.  She is gone now but she was very smart and she advanced her nursing education to become an anethetist.  We were not extremely close, but I always appreciated her input into my work and profession.

My first memory of being cared for by a nurse was when I was 5 years old.  My parents did a two for one, getting both my brother’s and my tonsils and adenoids removed.  I was sick to my stomach after so the nurse said as soon as I felt better I could have ice cream.  OMG….talk about getting to my heart.  I got better quickly and she was good for her promise.

When I was 10, I was hospitalized 70 miles from my home for issues with ear abscesses and for surgery to remove scar tissue where my adenoids use to be.  My first stay was in a large womens ward (8 beds or so), and I remember how efficiently the nurses removed the body of an elderly woman who died.  They were professional and silent behind those curtains.  I also remember how stern they were with me when they forbade me from visiting  the other little girl in the ward, because I was infectious.  They were protecting both me and her from further infection.  And then I really really remember a very kind and handsome orderly.  I was just old enough to have a crush.  I was actually mean to a nurse because I requested that HE take care of me…I was a besotted and demanding little girl.

Then there were the  nurses in my doctors and school offices when I was a kid.  I was a pretty hearty kid, so I didn’t have a whole lot to do with them.

In 1967, I went off to nursing school myself.  Some of the most amazing nurses in the world helped me to learn and to turn into a pretty decent nurse myself.  Then of course there were the staff nurses in the hospital where I trained.  They were our mentors and teachers too.  The patients were theirs, not ours.  But, we were assigned to their patients to learn and learn we did.  Looking back, they had to be the smartest and most patient nurses around to do that.

As a nurse so I was surrounded by nurses at my work.  Their abilities, and knowledge blew me away.  Nursing is continuous learning, and they taught me a lot.  I learned so much about how to establish a nurse to patient relationship.  Nurses have a particular skill to understand patients and to establish a 2 way trusting relationship in the first few minutes they meet.    I hope I passed along a lot of what I learned.

In 1973 I had my first baby.  Nurses taught me proper breathing, and coached me along during my labors.  They encouraged me and guided me until my first large baby boy emerged into this cold bright world.  I will never forget those nurses and their intelligence, their gentle touch and their guidance. The doctor just showed up for the main event.  I had a similar experience again just 2 years later. Those were two of the most significant events of my life, and my nurses were a big part of it.

When my youngest son was 10 he had his appendix out.  I would have given my right arm to go under anesthesia instead of him.  A nurse anesthetist found me in the hallway bawling like a baby and she stopped and asked me what was wrong.  She took the time to listen to my concerns, my fears and how powerless I felt about my sons experience.  She spent a lot of time with me and helped me through that fear.

I have had a few procedures while under anesthesia, and I was a nervous wreck about it.  When I awoke after surgery crying, every time,the recovery nurses asked “are you in pain”.  “NO”  i said.  “I am just relieved”.  They were so incredibly kind to me and helped me to get up and get out of those places as soon as possible.

Nurses have educated me, relieved my pain, responded to my needs and treated me with great concern and gentleness.

Then my Dad got a hospital acquired infection.  I was very angry.  He did not recover from that and died just about 10 years ago.  I wanted to blame the hospital, and everyone in it.  But as time passed, I recalled specific nurses who gave him incredible care.  They were respectful, kind, and gentle.  They used every recommended step in his care and they used the appropriate precautions for infections.  I remember the special touches, the ones who checked the condition of his skin, who kept him and his room spotless the ones who rubbed lotion on his heels and back, the ones who taped a paper bag for trash on his bedrail, the ones who brought him fresh cold water or coffee whenever he wanted it.  There are too many details to list, but what is seemingly a small thing may be a big thing.  I still blame that hospital for his infection, but I do not blame the entire staff of nurses and doctors, not anymore

After my father died, I wanted to do something to help stop the hospital infections like the one that killed him.  Who lobbied for my bill?  The Maine State Nurses Association.  Yes, nurses did that.  They know that hospitals can be unsafe for patients, and they want to stop that too.  We managed to get part of that bill passed into law.  Since then, I have helped them with their campaign to get better staffing in all hospitals, to make patients safer.

Some of my best friends are nurses.  Most of them sacrificed family time to work on holidays like Christmas to take care of other people who were sick or even dying.  Nurses nurture, comfort and give, and when the patient is dying, they hold a hand and talk to them, right along side the family.

The vast majority of the nurses are  professional, ethical and dedicated to the sick and dying.  It was no surprise to me to read the following news article today.  Thank you to the nurses in my life.  You have made an impact on me, my family and each other.  Keep up your tremendous work.



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