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Check in on your grandparents: Maine nursing home treatment is inhumane

Maine is the oldest state in the nation, and it’s getting older. For many adults, level IV nursing homes (long-term care facilities licensed for seven or more beds) are somewhere they believe their aging parents and relatives who have high levels of daily needs or serious health issues will receive better care. However, at nursing homes in Maine, your loved one may face physical abuse and neglect with limited to no accountability from the state.

Neglect and abuse is an issue that is sadly often gone unnoticed and unaddressed. From 2020 to 2022, there were 348 cases of abuse/neglect incidents at moderate levels of assistance nursing homes in Maine. The Department of Health and Human Services took no action in a staggering 91% of these cases. 

Where is the empathy for this group of people? Older individuals deserve the fundamental right to humane treatment. They deserve justice for experiencing substantial abuse and neglect while receiving care they are paying for. Elderly people with higher needs deserve to be safe, cared for and happy. 

Short staffing at nursing homes in our state is a significant contributor to this issue. Maine currently has higher-than-normal levels of staffing shortages at long-term care facilities. This leads to a lower capacity for nursing homes. People who need care and a supervised, safe place to live have nowhere to turn and can easily spend weeks to months waiting in hospital beds, with relatives or on the streets.

Staff is often spread so thin that residents are often neglected. In one nursing home in Maine, a resident wandered off, was hit by a car and killed. The staff had no idea she was gone. At another nursing home, a resident fell sometime after 10 p.m. and was only found around 6:30 a.m. asleep on the floor, soaking wet with urine and asleep. At yet another nursing home, a resident sadly died after wandering off for two hours and was found outside in freezing snow at 8:40 p.m. All three of these events happened in Maine in the last two years.

Medical neglect is sadly common as well. While moderate care nursing homes are technically nonmedical facilities, they often administer medications and medical treatment. Staff have ignored serious allergies, not realizing that a person went into anaphylactic shock and given the wrong medications, among other severe medical negligence events. Families expecting a better standard of care than they can provide at home might want to reconsider.

Reactive abuse is sadly common when the staff is spread so paper thin. Patients, especially those with Alzheimer’s/Dementia, can get aggressive since they don’t know where they are or who their caregiver is. Instead of exercising extreme patience and relying on their training, sometimes the staff lash out in anger. In one example of reactive abuse, a CNA slapped a resident who attempted to bite her. This type of behavior is unprofessional and immoral. A CNA should be skilled in de-escalating situations, and an elderly person in long-term care most certainly poses no actual threat.

So, why aren’t these institutions held accountable? This may be due to the existing lack of beds in nursing homes in Maine and the ongoing nursing shortage. The Department of Health and Human Services may fear fining or taking disciplinary action against responsible parties because they risk losing even more staff or beds. 

Besides Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services’ current negligence towards Maine nursing home issues, there are better ways to handle these issues. Nursing scholarships, larger salaries for nursing home staff and more state-allocated funds for nursing homes are just a few ways that these issues could be addressed more thoroughly and more effectively than allowing the continuance of horrible treatment of older people with high day-to-day assistance needs.

Nursing homes could and should be where adults can feel assured their older relatives will receive better care, comfort and a greater quality of life than they can give them at home. This is not currently the case. Older people at nursing homes can expect staff shortages, neglect, and abuse — if they can even get in.

In the nation’s oldest and fastest aging state, change needs to be seen on this front for the sake of Maine’s elders. If not, those responsible for this gross negligence — the Maine Department of Health and Human Services for their carelessness and the Maine Legislature for lack of funding — might want to start expecting the abuse they regularly overlook.

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