HELP LINE: People in facilities are still people

A LOT OF things seem to blow right by me, probably for a couple of reasons: a) There’s a limit to how much stuff I can keep track of and b) I often just don’t care.

For example, apparently every month (well, OK, every day) celebrates something or other: International Left-Handed Welders’ Month, Sandbox Builders’ Month or the ever-popular Why Does It Take Three Strong Men and a Chain Saw to Open the Arthritis Medicine Month.

My personal favorite, which I’ve personally declared, is Hot Fudge Sundae Month, which is every month that has three or more letters in its name.

Other than that, I pretty much don’t care.

However, in the midst of my not caring, I stumbled on to the fact that October is National Long-Term Care Residents’ Rights Month. I didn’t know that.

I started caring.

It refers to the simple, seemingly obvious observation that folks who reside in “long-term care” facilities (most of us think of nursing homes, but it also includes assisted living facilities and adult family homes. We’ll just say “nursing homes,” to keep it easy) don’t check their human rights at the door when they check in.

Obvious, right?


Residents, I might point out, are whole, entire human beings.

They’ve had lives.

They’ve contributed, sacrificed, worked, raised families, helped neighbors, celebrated, cried and (often) done and seen amazing things.

They’ve lived history.

They’ve (often) gone out of their way to help people, just like most people do.

And they kept on keeping on. Just like most people do.

Now, here’s a test: What was horribly wrong with those past few sentences?

Right. It was all in the past tense. They “had” this or they “did” that or they “were” a certain kind of person.

They have, they do and they are.

They are whole, entire human beings.

When did they stop being that?

They didn’t, but it’s way too easy for us to act like they did. Out of sight, out of mind, out of circulation.

But wait a minute: They still have rights, tastes, preferences, needs and … souls.

They still deserve and have a right to dignity and respect. Common human courtesy shouldn’t be uncommon.

They deserve to continue to participate in life.

It doesn’t matter if she’s residing in a facility for the short term while she bounces back from a medical event, or if he’s relocated for the long haul, for any number of reasons. They are still human, still people, still alive.

Still alive. Let’s remember that.

Most of the folks who I’ve known and do know who work in long-term care facilities are incredibly decent people.

They do jobs that it takes a very special kind of person to do, and they do it day after day after day.

It’s hard work.

On a good day, when things are going well, it’s hard work.

On a bad day …?

This is Earth. Nothing is perfect, and that includes residential facilities.

We can excuse imperfection and understand.

What we can’t do is accept that as an excuse: Residents — living, breathing human beings — have rights that deserve to be preserved.

Or, if need be, defended.

In our neck of the woods, we have a Long-Term Care Ombudsman program.

It’s their job to promote those residents’ rights, assist them with complaints and provide information to folks who need to find a facility.

You can reach that program at 360-417-8556.

But programs don’t do things, people do, so the person you’ll reach at that phone number is Jane Meyer.

She and a cadre of volunteers who care enough to do this work make it their business to ensure we all remember that whole, entire human beings should be treated as whole, entire human beings.

If you have a worry, a complaint or a question, call her.

If you think you’ve got what it takes to be that kind of volunteer, call her.

And if you know someone who’s residing in a facility (and lots of us do), take the time to visit.

Pay attention to what you see, hear and smell; know if your person is getting what living human beings deserve to get; but mostly, just take the time to connect.

I know you’re busy. So am I.

So what? That’s an excuse?

No, it doesn’t work for me either.

People have rights, and those rights include dignity and respect — and company.

The right to know that somebody cares.

The right not to live in the past tense.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].

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