The state of Illinois is known for many things: deep dish pizza, the site of the world’s first skyscraper, and hot dogs without ketchup, to name a few. However, Illinois is not known for its nursing home care. In fact, according to 2014 state rankings by Families for Better Care, Illinois ranked as the sixth worst state for nursing home care in the United States. Worse, nursing home rankings have decayed with time, as Illinois fell from the eighth worst state the year before. Nonetheless, while many of the state’s nursing homes are in poor condition, some of the senior living facilities in Illinois could compete with the best nursing homes in the country.
FBC’s nursing home report only drives home the importance of nursing home selection. It’s estimated 10% of all senior citizens will experience some form of elder abuse, likely as the result of a poorly managed nursing home facility. Choosing a reputable nursing home will greatly reduce the risk of nursing home abuse and enhance quality of life for seniors. Amidst Illinois’ tumultuous relationship with nursing homes, you will be able to find a more ethical facility by paying attention to these 13 warning signs:
- High Staff Turnover Rate – Pay attention to this statistic, and ask the nursing home to provide it freely. Also seek other sources to verify the nursing home’s provided data. Staff turnover could indicate a number of issues in the home like low wages, lack of proper benefits, poor management, improper hiring, understaffing, and more. Without consistent staff on-board, the facility’s in a consistent state of training and playing catch-up.
- Frantic Staff – If the staff appears perpetually busy and even overwhelmed, this could be a sign that the facility is understaffed. Understaffing means less attention paid to the residents. It could also mean more severe issues, like neglect. According to the Chicago Tribune, over 80% of nursing homes’ revenues are from Medicare funding, and Illinois has one of the lowest funding allotments. Over 10,000 nursing home staff members sought higher wages and an increase in staff in 2017.
- Unanswered Phones – This goes hand-in-hand with understaffing. If the staff has no time to answer the phone, they may not have time for the residents. Consider, too, that the staff may not be working together properly to distribute the work. Staff conflicts also speak to the facility, and the ability to properly provide for the residents.
- The Staff Speaks in a Language You Don’t Understand – If you can’t speak to a staff member without the hurdle of a language barrier, this is a good indication that you may not be able to properly communicate needs. Even with bilingual staff, you may have problems with miscommunication. While some nursing homes attract residents with their language capacities, this could be a larger issue. Those unable to speak English could well accept a lower standard of care in the face of cultural commonality.
- Staff Members Deflect Questions – Asking questions is commonplace in elder care, so if you notice that staff members are going out of their way to avoid answering questions or change the subject during a conversation, be aware that this is not a good indication. While it’s alright for staff members not to know the answers to all of your questions, they should at least make an attempt to find out the answer from other staff members and be honest about not knowing. Additionally, look out for vague answers. In 2008, a nursing home patient passed away after getting caught between his mattress and the bed railing. Without being able to escape, the patient suffocated to death. When questioned about the patient’s death, Anjanette Miller of Berwyn Rehabilitation Center remarked “accidents do happen.” This type of vague answer is not a welcome sign. Nursing homes should be able to properly articulate why an incident occurred and what they will do to prevent future incidents.
- Minimal Facility Improvements – Technologies and principles of care for nursing home are ever-changing, so the nursing home you’re looking at should be keeping up. Whether it’s a current change, or a proposed change, ask the home what they are doing to improve the facility for present and future residents. If a nursing home is unwilling to create a better environment for its residents, that’s an indicator of favoring profits over people. SB 1624 was introduced after nursing homes failed to comply with a 2010 staffing-related bill. The bill was supposedly not specific enough, and some nursing homes found that it was cheaper to actually pay the fines than comply.
- Unsanitary Living Environment – Make sure to go see the facility in person. An ethical nursing home will not try to mask any areas of the facility, since it will have nothing to hide. Get a good look at the common areas, as well as some of the smaller rooms. Especially pay attention to kitchens, bathrooms, and bedrooms. If these rooms are not clean, this is a red flag.
- Negative Online Reviews – Do some thorough online research about the nursing home, including reading any reviews you can about the facility. If you see that most of the reviews are negative, it’s probably an indication that it’s not a good home. The Chicago Tribune wrote an article in 2009 about the Berwyn Rehabilitation Center titled “Misery: Inside a 1-star nursing home.” The article speaks of the smell of urine, bruised patients, and even the death of an obese resident.
- The Home is Void of Safety Features – If the home has no safety features that should commonly be available in a nursing home, like grab bars and railings, this is a bad indicator. But, even if the home has things like bed railings, take into account that some bed rails are actually dangerous; they’re not nearly as rigorously considered by the federal safety requirements as children’s bed rails are. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has accumulated 160 reports of bed rail issues in adult facilities, which have been linked to 155 related fatalities. While improper safety features project an outward sign of safety, they could in fact be an injury or death in the making.
- Signs of Restraint Are Evident – Seeing straps on beds, wheelchairs, and chairs is a big issue. It may indicate that some of the residents are being restrained, which is demoralizing and unethical. If you are able to see any of the residents, be very wary if you see bruises and other injuries on their bodies. A 2016 Illinois bill proposed no longer allowing anonymous complaints of elder abuse in nursing homes, but with names attached, many fear retaliation. Since you can’t always rely on whether or not a complaint was filed, look for other signs within the facility and on the web.
- Lack of Programs for Exercise and Activity – To keep up mobility, residents need to be able to move around, so good nursing homes will offer a variety of physical activities. If a nursing home is open and encouraging of movement, it’s a good indication that the residents have some options.
- Unhappy and Unhealthy Looking Residents – Look at facial expressions, gestures, and even the way the residents hold themselves. If they look upset, or drained, this may signal that they’re not getting good treatment from the staff or that the facility is lacking. Additionally, take note if the residents are abnormally thin or withering in vitality. Though some weight loss and loss of energy is associated with aging, these symptoms displayed in excess demonstrate a lack of care for the residents.
- A Bad Gut Feeling – While this may be the most ethereal sign on the list, don’t underestimate your gut feeling. If something feels off, it could well be that something is off.