Becoming invisible

To my great relief – they managed to find a temporary placement for mum to allow me to prepare for her to move in. She was given 2 weeks of intermediate care but I had to request an additional 2 days as one of those weeks I had to visit my brother abroad, who was suffering from cancer.  I looked at the website and it said the home invest in their staff and if their staff are happy so are the residents and their families.  It sounded great.

Well, the staff were happy, but I couldn’t say the same for the residents.

I know I am far too critical and no doubt expect too much, but simple things like a smile or a word cost nothing and staff should remember they are looking after ‘people’ who have feelings and not treat them like inanimate objects.

I didn’t see any evidence of happy staff at the reception desk and although some of the carers themselves seemed happy, this was more a case of chatting and joking amongst themselves.  They did sit in the lounge with the residents, but rarely talked to them. They just sat there filling in paperwork.  One member of staff probably thought he was conversing, but he was very patronising and talked at the residents as though they were children.  On arrival we were told mum could ask for a cup of tea or sandwich at any time, but asking and actually getting were two very different things.   People would ask for a drink or to go to the toilet, but their request was acknowledged and then ignored.

The residents were also treated like objects.  In the dining room they put a bib round my mum’s neck without telling her what they were about to do and just shoved the food in front of her.  They gave her soup and half a sandwich and when we explained that she had ordered macaroni cheese, it was as though they didn’t hear us.  Later the macaroni cheese did arrive, but by now she was full up.  Had she been told that soup and half a sandwich were always served prior to the main meal she wouldn’t have eaten the sandwich.  We soon learned that most residents ate the sandwich as the main meal was often congealed, cold and not what they had actually ordered – they were just given the nearest plate to them from the serving trolley.    One day I saw a carer take a man’s food away with no explanation.  The man was clearly upset and shouted at him to bring it back. The carer just ridiculed him and told him he was ‘barking like a dog’.  Seeing me, the carer made the excuse of trying to put extra on his plate, but if this was true he should still have asked.

Another concern was that they would suddenly push mum’s wheelchair in and out of rooms like a piece of furniture, without any warning or telling her where they were going.  I was shocked at how compliant mum had become in just a couple of days.  Is this what institutionalised means?

The call bells seemed to be rarely answered and this worried my husband when he visited.  I told him that residents with dementia perhaps call continually, but they didn’t always answer mum’s bell either.  One day her bell didn’t work at all, so we joked they had probably disconnected hers.  But apparently she had been shouting and banging, for ages, even calling out her room number, as she needed the toilet.  No one came and then about an hour later the fire alarm went off and her door automatically closed shut.  She was left in the pitch black with no idea as to what was going on.  The door remained shut and nobody came in to check on her until the morning.  As a result she was left soaking wet, drenched from head to toe in urine, and extremely distressed the whole night.

Mum did need frequently need the toilet, sometimes 4 or 5 times during the night, which was why she was there in the first place and another reason why they should have checked on her anyway.  She was weak from her stroke and needed support and supervision getting on and off the commode.  The night staff were far from happy with this and would always complain.  Some would tell her to just wet the bed but others would tell her off if she did!  Once when the carer was cross, mum tried to explain that she had only spilled some water but the carer would not listen and angrily stripped everything off.

In the very short time mum was there, they had already lost some of her clothes, including all four of her nightdresses, and they tried to dress her in clothes belonging to a previous resident who they said had died.  The clothes were also marked with the room number which, although practical, I felt was impersonal.  Mum literally counted the days until she could come home, but she was then worried about leaving the other residents behind.

You could argue that it wasn’t that bad. It was clean and smart and the facilities were good.  Nothing terrible happened and a couple of the staff were very good but I could not have wanted to have left her there permanently.   I do appreciate that staff work really hard for very low pay and residents can be extremely demanding.   Working such long and intense hours, it would be easy to slip into automatic pilot.  But at the end of the day care home staff are paid to do this job and they do have a choice, unlike the residents who have no choice and I guarantee do not want to be dependent on their help. I could understand why some residents might get aggressive or keep saying they want to go home.

At the end of the day, it did me two huge favours.  Firstly, the placement allowed me to visit my brother and get the room ready and secondly mum can never complain about the care I give as I can remind her of the alternative.  I thought I might put a photo of the home on the wall in her room…..



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