Abuse in Nursing Homes: Throwing the Elderly Out Like TrashThe BBC Panorama recently aired the documentary: Care Home Abuse, in which they featured several elderly resident victims who were slapped, punched, ignored, treated aggressively and never spoken to.

A 98-year-old resident Yvonne Grant was recorded by hidden camera planted by her family, begging nursing staff for help more than 320 times in an hour, only to be ignored. Read the full story here.

My Story

Watching the documentary brought me back to a furious time in my life. My own precious grandmother at one time lived in a well-known care facility in Morristown, Tennessee. She did not have dementia or Alzheimer’s and was well liked by staff.

She was treated well, at least as far as we could tell. Her mind was sharp, her memory good, and our family visited her often and without a schedule. Her picture made the Citizen Tribune with other sweet ladies on the crafts council.

One day, my mother and I received a call she was asking for us, her heart rate decreasing, they’d called for an ambulance. We met her at the emergency room, unresponsive. My grandmother soon died and we were too late to say goodbye. Her room at the care facility was a precious representation of her tastes and likes. Her little keepsakes and mementos are always a joy to see whenever we visited her.

As my mother and I grieved and tried to console one another, two hours later we headed for the Nursing Home to delicately, and with fond memories, go through her belongings to pack them with care. When we walked into the room we found it stripped bare, shockingly sterile and ready for another unsuspecting family. I was enraged! I can’t even begin to explain what they robbed from us! They couldn’t give us six hours? Twenty-four hours? And where were her things? Shoved into black trash bags and placed on the loading dock for our convenience.

My grandmother’s life was just thrown out like the trash, and with it, our hearts. Back in my twenties, I didn’t have the restraint I practice today, and if I’d gotten the approval from my mother, I would have quickly taken care of business that day in a way the staff would never have forgotten. My mother preferred to leave it alone, to take what dignity we were left with, which was precious little, and go home with our priceless bags of trash.

If a nursing home can treat one of its beloved residents and favorite families in such a despicable and dishonorable way, how do they treat patients with dementia, with Alzheimer’s, with no family to keep an eye on them? The sheer callousness of what they did to her and to us still astounds me, nearly 25 years later.

Just Six Months?!

Going back to Ms. Grant’s incident, the sentence for the nurse in charge, Violet Arthur John, was suspension for six months. Let me repeat that. Six months. Is that a just and fair sentence for those who abuse, mistreat, ignore, and neglect the elderly? Is that a just punishment for those who treat you this way? Because the days are quickly approaching when the elderly we speak of, is us. We sure get upset over whether the Starbucks cup is going to be red or not, but where’s the outrage for victims like Yvonne Grant and countless others who can’t communicate, can’t defend themselves? Where is the outrage to demand more severe penalties for those who violate common decency and fail to be patient advocates?

Native American elders pass down their knowledge and are highly regarded for their wisdom. Korean elders are beloved and celebrated. Chinese elders are cared for by their children and are highly respected members of the family. In India, elders are the head of the family, and advice is sought from them on important issues and decisions. In Mediterranean and Latin cultures, it is common for multiple generations to live under one roof. Filipino grandparents continue to live with their children and grandchildren, who care for them. France passed a law in 2004 to enforce children staying in touch with geriatric parents.

But apparently, in some parts of the world, especially the Western world, we still seem to throw out the elderly like trash. I can’t help but think this is a reflection of our culture, our attitudes, our lack of integrity, our lack of honor. But in nursing, abuse and neglect of any patient, especially elderly, defenseless patients, should demand the revocation of a nursing license.

It’s a sad thing that the nursing shortage has inundated our profession with those whose moral compass is questionable, whose actions are reprehensible, but still boards of nursing allow them to practice after a slap on the wrist. 

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