Opinion: Stories of pain, loss around senior care in Georgia

The AJC’s ongoing “Unprotected” series on senior care in Georgia has drawn hundreds of reader comments, pointing toward the need for legislative reforms, the Editorial Board believes. (iStock)

The AJC’s ongoing “Unprotected” series on senior care in Georgia has drawn hundreds of reader comments, pointing toward the need for legislative reforms, the Editorial Board believes. (iStock)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s ongoing investigation “Unprotected” has elicited a lot of reaction from readers. Hundreds of comments have been received in some form so far.

"Unprotected" hits home for many who've read it. The AJC's series of reports on Georgia's assisted living and large personal care homes is relevant to a large portion of our readers – and, really, to Georgians in general.

Today, we present a selection of reader narratives sent to us. They offer additional, grassroots examples indicating that the current way of overseeing senior care and nursing facilities here is overdue for substantial improvements.

Given the various sensitivities involved, we agreed not to name writers here who requested anonymity. Some reside in senior care facilities; others are employed in, or otherwise connected to the industry.

For similar reasons, we removed here identifying details of specific facilities as well as names of people who writers believed had been harmed.

It's our hope that Georgia's lawmakers and other elected leaders will hear and take to heart these voices from real Georgians and use their anecdotes to help inform the debate as the General Assembly considers the important need to improve matters here.

“My father was strong … he was not ready to die.”

I would like to share my experience with one nursing facility. They initially presented the facility well during our tour. We came to learn it had extremely poor staffing – specifically, on the evening and night shifts. The weekends were short-staffed.

My father was admitted to this facility on Dec. 28, 2018. The primary reason was pulmonary edema of both legs and wound care, along with physical therapy evaluation. My father was ambulatory with a walker and assistance. He was alert and oriented.

On Oct. 9, 2019, my father fell, and an X-ray confirmed a right hip fracture. Facility clinical staff provided conflicting explanations about how my father fell.

On Oct. 22, my sister found my father unresponsive, and his tongue was black and blue. Clinical staff had placed a towel over his private parts where he was bleeding. Once I arrived, I asked his nurse to call the ambulance for him. My father was admitted to ICU, and his labs were critical. The doctors explained they couldn’t do anything for him, and we needed to readmit him to hospice.

He was transferred back to the facility. On Nov. 9, my father fell again. Clinical staff couldn’t explain how that happened. My father’s condition continued to deteriorate. Our family was in pain and agony, going to visit daily and watching our father die. My father was strong, and he fought so hard.

He was not ready to die.

I received the call Nov. 27, the day before Thanksgiving, that my father was dead. We have a large family of 14 siblings and grandchildren. I needed to wait for family to come before having the mortuary pick up his body. Previously, I asked several times if the facility would transfer my father to a private room so our family could spend the night, but the facility would not approve. My father’s roommate had to endure our pain and tears for weeks up until my father died. My father’s body was in the room for six hours, and we tried diligently not to upset the roommate.

The facility provided horrible care to my father. The staffing was inefficient and patients’ health care needs were not met. My father’s nurse went to lunch for one hour and I was told she didn’t sign out to anyone, so therefore my father’s morphine dose had to wait for her return.

My father was loved, and we took very good care of him. We didn’t admit him to the facility for them to kill him.

Family and friends will share many stories about my dad.

I’ve filed a complaint with the state of Georgia asking them to investigate my father’s death.

Dorothy Grissom

“I am not sure what to do or who to talk to.”

My dad was transferred to a facility from the hospital. He is 90 years old and has dementia. He was in this facility for approximately six weeks. He lost 50 pounds and got a severe infection on his pinky finger.

On Jan. 13, he was transferred to another facility. Again, people coming in and out of his room, looking at his finger and acknowledging it didn’t look good. Today, he is back in the hospital, and they are going to cut off the finger. The hospital is not sure if he can survive surgery.

I am not sure what to do or who to talk to. Are there no doctors at these facilities? The doctor who came at night to visit him on Jan. 13 said she was going to order blood work and a chest X-ray, but to my knowledge it was not done. My mom is 85 and is at his side, but she has her own medical issues to deal with.

As the daughter and caregiver, I want to do all that I can, but I am not retired, and I have a job to report to every day.

Cheryl A. Fournier

“Pajamas and sweat suits were stolen”

I have a lot of complaints about one nursing home. I’m talking about slapping my wife on the hand. Taking my wife out of her bed at 3 a.m. and making her sit in a wheelchair in the lobby as punishment for getting out of the bed.

Also, numerous pajamas and sweat suits I had purchased for her were stolen.

I could go on and on.

Name withheld

“Folks with memory problems … get lost in the building”

I have been reading your articles on assisted living and personal care homes with interest.

We live in a senior living retirement place.

We are supposed to be “independent,” but we have many folks with memory problems who have been left here by their families, as you have said, because it costs less to be here than in a memory care facility.

Consequently, we as residents are always pointing out that people from the second floor (personal care) or just folks with memory problems leave the building on their own or get lost in the building, not knowing where they live or where the dining room is.

We have had residents go on the building’s buses to the mall or to grocery stores and don’t know the times or location of the buses for the return trips.

There is another area you have not covered. That is food. We get three meals a day (paid for in our rent) but have been told that if we need special diets for medical conditions, it is up to us to take care of that. People with memory issues can’t patrol what we are served.

Thank you for your comprehensive series. I appreciate the time it has taken you to collect the data you have shared.

Name withheld

“At that moment, I knew we were in trouble”

My 96-year-old grandmother was hospitalized in September 2019 due to a urinary tract infection. The [hospital] admitted her and kept her for about two weeks. Instead of releasing her, they decided to send her to rehab so she could gain some of her strength back.

They recommended a facility … and the hospital sent her there.

During my initial walk-through, which was a pop-up visit …I noticed about 20 call lights on from the residents needing assistance, and the nurses at the nurses’ station playing on their phones.

During my grandmother’s first night there, one of the nurses asked me to help her put a bedpan under my grandmother. She left my grandmother sitting on a plastic bedpan … I told her that the plastic bed pan was cutting into my grandma, and the nurse’s response was, “I’ll be back, we have a meeting right now.”

At that moment, I knew we were in trouble.

Later that night, my grandmother called me crying. She has an iPhone and always calls me via FaceTime. One of the nurses came into the room yelling at her, saying she turned her oxygen off. My grandmother said that she didn’t turn it off; the oxygen machine was in the corner and there’s no way that she could’ve reached it. The nurse yelled and said, “You’re lying, you did it!” and threw my grandma’s oxygen cord into the floor.

Later that first night, another nurse came in to help my grandmother go to the restroom and asked my grandma’s age. She said she’s 96 and the nurse laughed, crossed her arms, and told my grandmother to get up. My grandmother stated that she can’t get up, and the nurse stood there laughing. This is all within the first night she was there!

Since then, the issues have continued. They have maybe two nurses at times for 82 patients. Everyone quits because of how management and the nurses treat the residents. I do believe they’re a little more careful how they treat my grandmother now because of my family’s heavy presence.

However, the neglect and emotional abuse haven’t stopped. My grandmother had a younger roommate a few weeks ago who was also there for rehab. The lady may have been in her 40s or 50s. They became good friends, and the roommate was always defending my grandmother and telling me what would happen once we left from visiting her.

The roommate and my grandmother would tell me how they would sit in their own urine and feces for extended periods of time. The nurses would come into the room, handle them roughly, and shout at them. The roommate said that she would get upset because my grandma is 96 and the way they would shout at them would make my grandma very upset. She was afraid my grandmother would have a heart attack.

The roommate got very sick and had chest pains. She had ongoing heart problems. Apparently, it took the nurses an hour to tend to her, and she ended up back in the hospital. The roommate was calling for help, and the nurse came in and said, “I’ll be back, we’re serving dinner right now.” How can you tell someone who’s having a possible heart attack that you’ll be back after you serve the other residents [their] dinner? What kind of cold-hearted people are working here and running this facility?

My grandmother is still there, and I wish that I could bring her home with me, but I’m a single mother, and she needs 24-hour care.

The elderly and children are our most vulnerable populations, but they are the most abused and neglected.

The scary thing is, I think they treat my grandma better than the other residents because of our heavy presence. So just imagine how they treat the people who have no family? Or the people who aren’t in their right minds anymore?

[My grandmother] has even had money stolen out of her room! She specifically told me not to say anything because she doesn’t want to make it worse, but it is my duty to defend her and all of the other elderly people there who don’t have a voice.

Something has to be done.

As soon as you turn into the parking lot [of this facility] you can feel the sadness in the air.

Name withheld

“We never saw anything out of the ordinary”

Thank you for exposing the neglect in some of these facilities. It was a much-needed series.

My mother and her sister spent a few years in a wonderful assisted living facility. I know that is not true in many of these homes.

[Because] my wife and I were retired, we made visits almost daily. We never saw anything out of the way during their stay of nearly two years.

Name withheld

“I have been cheering the AJC for this investigation”

As a brief background, my dad was at another facility for almost two years. Then we moved him to another one, mistakenly thinking they had more staff and were better equipped to handle advanced stages of dementia.

After a terrible incident where a staff member hit my dad and ridiculed him with multiple witnesses including my dad’s hospice nurse, we moved him to the home where he passed away [in January 2018.]

I have been cheering the AJC on for this investigation

Florence Goodendorf

“I have been trying to file a complaint”

My mom was in the dementia unit at a facility from May 31 to Oct. 26, 2019.

I have been trying to file a complaint with Health Facility Regulations for about three weeks unsuccessfully. I have left my number and received no returned call.

I removed my mom from the facility on Oct. 26. I visited her on that date, and I had to call 911 when I found her slumped in a chair, drooling from the mouth and unresponsive to verbal stimulation. No one called me from the facility.

If I had not come that day and visited my mom every day, she probably would have passed away from neglect.

I took my mom to an emergency room, where she was found to be severely dehydrated. No urine output over 12 hours, urine very dark. Bedsore on heel and between vagina and rectum. I had recently complained three days in a row about my mom, when I visited her, that her adult diapers were soaked with urine. My mom was ambulatory, and if you take her to the bathroom every two to three hours, she does not wet herself, and she must be changed during the night.

I am an RN myself and have had experience as an RN case manager for hospice.