IF IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD, WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO PROVIDE DIGNITY AND RESPECT TO THE ELDERLY?
I am a cradle Catholic who is impassioned about the pro-life stance that is instilled in us through the doctrines of the church. As I reflect on the fact that “Dignity of Life” is to be granted to all of God’s children, from conception to natural death. I have come to realize that today’s culture personifies a culture of death. In 1973 Roe vs Wade gave women the right to abort their unborn child for any reason whatsoever. Over the years there have been many conflicts over the right to do this. Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, “What is legal is not always moral” Yes, the law says it is legal, but you and I know it is not moral. Last year the Supreme Court banned abortion. It took 50 years to revoke it.
When I was in my first year as an early child educator there were no child abuse laws that protected young children. A child in my preschool class was severely neglected and abused and there was nothing to protect him. His parents killed this child for wetting his pants. That was in 1979. In 1982 reporting of suspicion of abuse or neglect became mandatory. Three years too late for this child. During this time in my life, I am confronted with another aspect regarding respect for life. My mother is 90 years old and has advanced dementia, has broken her back and ribs due to falls, is diabetic, and has ongoing Uti's as well as a diminishing capacity to eat and to be mobile. I have had to advocate for her in so many different ways. I was appointed to be her guardian a year ago to provide her with a safe environment as well as to protect her from elder exploitation as a family member took her life savings, took out loans using her name, and failed to pay her utilities and life insurance premiums. One would wonder how it is that such evil things can be done to the elderly and there is nothing that can be done in a legal manner. I have pursued this with our local police department only to be turned away and nothing was done.
It is through prayer, discernment, and the support of others who have experienced becoming a guardian who has helped me sustain my faith in God to help my mother overcome the challenges in her life. She is in now in hospice and every day I pray to God for the strength and courage to help her die with dignity. As I visit her, I can observe the other residents as well. The majority of the residents do not have visitors. National statistics state that between 40%-to 50% of elderly residents do not have visitors.
I see my mother on a daily basis, and I have observed some people who are dedicated to the care and safety of the elderly, and I am thankful for that. On the other hand, I have seen staff who treat residents in an indignant manner. It breaks my heart. One day while visiting my mother I observed her roommate who is a paraplegic being spoken to in a very unkind manner. Her electric wheelchair needed to be charged and she was facing her bed with her food tray about three feet from her. It was mealtime so I moved her tray so she could reach it. The aide came in to bring her food and she took everything on the roommate's tray and threw it into the garbage can, including her mail. Then she moved the cart away from her. She could not reach the tray. I moved it in front of her and when the aide returned, she once again took the tray moving it out of her reach. I could not just sit, and watch, and I asked, “Why are you moving it out of her way? Her wheelchair needs to be charged and she cannot reach it where you put it.” The aide responded and said, “She cannot eat there because she is the way. I cannot give your mother her food in her bed.” My mother’s medical care plan states that she is to eat her meals sitting in her chair. I shared this with the aide and her reply was, “What do you want me to do about that?” It is through the grace of God that I bit my tongue and did not criticize her but could only say, “Lord Have Mercy, I am a Christian woman but what you have done here is so disrespectful and I wonder what goes on when I am not here?”
It certainly is a trying time, but I must put my Trust in God to provide my mother with what she needs. The reality is that her care is less than dignified when these kinds of things happen. Once she fell out of bed and I was not informed. The incident report stated that the family had been contacted and advised. I did not receive a call, therefore the record was falsified. On the other hand, a bed alarm is supposed to be in place with a fall mat next to her bed. I often visit and have observed them not being used. Many times, my mom waits 30-45 minutes to be changed and I find it to be so undignified.
I have to ask the unit manager why these things keep happening. Where is the love, respect, and dignity that the elderly deserve when they have given their lives to help others with family members, and in the workplace? They have paid their taxes, followed the law, and helped others yet when they are in a time of need, no help is given in a timely manner. I've been waiting since April to get my mom's Medicaid application approved.
I often pray for the staff who are overworked, underpaid, and understaffed. How is it that our government has minimal rules for the safety, health, and dignity of the elderly? RN to patient ratio is 1-18. An aide-to-patient ratio is 1-20. How is it that there are not lower ratios to help the elderly whose needs are very demanding?
It leaves me with the thought that society falls short in providing quality care for the elderly in nursing homes. I ask myself, “What can I do?” I pray for my mother every day and for all the other residents who are there without anyone to stand up for them. My mother’s roommate has no family to visit her, and she is all alone. I see this on a daily basis and have come to know how much she needs her family, a friend, or an advocate. Yet, she perseveres because she knows the Lord and trusts in Him. I see her struggles as well as my mother’s and know that they have a strong faith in God. I am my mother’s daughter and at the same time I have become her caregiver just as she cared for me when I was younger, hence a complete role reversal has occurred.
It takes a whole village to raise a child and in the same manner, what does it take to help the elderly not to be neglected, exploited, and to be treated with dignity in their old age? I pray that someday there will be a change in how we approach this lack of dignity, care, and respect for the elderly.
In 2022 President Joe Biden stated that “All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and to have access to quality medical care. The White House announced a set of reforms developed by the Department of Health and Human Services to improve the safety and quality of nursing home care. These reforms aim to ensure sufficient staff-to-patient ratios and provide adequate training that ensures high-quality medical care. Each resident has a right to be treated with dignity and respect the same as the social teaching of the Catholic Church.
Staff activities and interactions focus on assisting the elderly in maintaining and enhancing their self-esteem and self-worth Furthermore, dignity in care means providing care that supports the self-respect of the person, recognizing their capacities and ambitions, and doing nothing to undermine it. It is important to note that despite efforts to improve nursing home care, there have been instances of substandard conditions at nursing homes. My mother's example is a living example of that. However, ongoing reforms aim to address these issues and ensure that seniors, people with disabilities, and others living in nursing homes receive reliable, high-quality care. But further work needs to be done. Ongoing reform may take years to implement and the process of making these changes needs to be hastened. It took 50 years to find Roe-vs-Wade illegal, Slave trade was legal in our country beginning in 1619 and in 1865 slavery was abolished, yet it took over two hundred years to find slavery immoral and illegal.
Accordingly, I ask you, how long will it take for our senior citizens to be seen as human beings who need to be treated with dignity and respect as well? I pray for a conversion of hearts and reach out to you to advocate for the rights of our senior citizens who in their old age need our prayers, help, and support. Since we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, what can we do to give back to them as they have given to us?