New Task Force Aims to Improve Nursing Home Care in Summit County, Ohio
Over the next six months, the 18-member task force will review current nursing home conditions, assess possible solutions and best practices and make recommendations for improvement.
Akron Beacon Journal
By Emily Mills
When Nora Stadler's mother went into a nursing home a few years ago, Stadler said she expected her mother would be "gone out of the house for a week, max."
She picked a facility for her mother in Summit County. Twelve days later, an aide told her to get her mom out and to a hospital.
Stadler found out her mother was malnourished and dehydrated, with a urinary tract infection and open sores.
Stadler's mother, who has Alzheimer's disease, is now at a different facility.
I will say there are times where she currently is where I do leave in tears wondering is my mom safe tonight? Is she OK?" she said. "It has eaten away at me."
Over the next six months, Stadler will work with 17 other people as part of the Summit County Nursing Homes and Facilities Task Force to examine the condition of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in the county and advocate for change.
The group had its first meeting Tuesday in the Greater Akron Chamber office, with about 30 members of the public attending.
The 18 task force members include local nursing home administrators, an elder care attorney and representatives from the county's Department of Job and Family Services, the county's Probate Court, the Direction Home Akron Canton Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities, Summit County Public Health, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and the Ohio Department of Health.
The group also includes community members who have had family members in nursing homes.
Summit County Council President Jeff Wilhite, who proposed creating the group and is chairing the task force, said while anecdotes of people's experiences in nursing homes and other facilities are important, it's also necessary to collect facts and data to inform the task force's recommendations.
Where this review leads us cannot be determined at this beginning stage, but the focus will be first and foremost on the dignity of family members, of those residents of nursing homes and facilities in Summit County who are our neighbors, friends and family members, many of whom -- due to age, fragility, physical disability or mental disability or a combination thereof -- are vulnerable and reliant upon the quality and quantity of care expected and provided to them by their caregivers," Wilhite said.
The task force will focus on three areas over the next six months: reviewing current conditions, assessing possible solutions and best practices and making recommendations. The group will then present its findings and recommendations to Summit County Council and the county executive in a written report.
The group is currently in the first stage, reviewing current conditions. At its 90-minute meeting Tuesday, members decided to create four committees: a legislation committee to look at current and pending laws related to nursing homes and other facilities at the federal, state and local levels; an operations committee to define services and payment-related topics and issues; a visiting committee to visit some of the highest- and lowest-rated facilities in the county; and a staffing committee to look at employment, training and wages.
"The pool of applicants that we have to hire from, it's a national and international problem that there's more jobs than there are people, and I think one of the things that this group and Summit County specifically can do is to work on employment, whether it's training or some sort of structure," Michael Wojno, CEO of assisted living developer and operator Gables Management and owner of a home health and hospice company, said of staffing issues.
May Chen, the retired executive director of Asian Services in Action Inc., proposed recruiting from the immigrant and refugee population.
"Their training needs to be more culturally and linguistically specific, so the mainstream training is not one size fits all," she said. "They bring a lot of respect for elders, a lot of compassion for elders because that's a part of their culture and tradition."
Wilhite emphasized the task force's mission is not to put nursing homes and other facilities out of business.
"All we're asking is you do your job and you allow us to help you do your job so that the ladies and gentlemen in your care don't suffer in a negative and inhumane way," he said.
Summit County Council approved creating the task force in August. The idea for the group came about after a June report listed a Copley facility that is now closed among the worst in the nation.
Fairlawn Rehab and Nursing Center on Ridgewood Road was one of five Ohio nursing homes on a list of 88 federal "Special Focus Facilities" nationwide with the most serious history of quality of care issues. It closed this summer.
Wilhite said the "inhumane care and neglect" described at the facility "struck me emotionally."
Then the anger set in. It is unconscionable and disgusting at best," he said. "To sit and just shake your head is not enough. We need to act, to address this very important human service need and I would add human rights issue."
Task force meetings are scheduled for Jan. 21, Feb. 18, March 24, April 21 and May 19, all at 10 a.m. in the Greater Akron Chamber conference room in Akron's AES Building, 388 S. Main St., Suite 205. The meetings are open to the public.
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