How to complain to Mom's nursing home when you're not sure who to believe?

2 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

I live states away from my 90+ year old mother, who is in a nursing home and highly anxious. I have siblings in town who, for various reasons, choose to ignore some parts of my mother's needs/requests. Some of these reasons are valid; sometimes, the validity doesn't matter to me. For example -- my mother complains that her pleas to use the bathroom sometimes go ignored by nursing home staff. We all understand that they're short-handed -- but, for what we pay (upwards of $10K a month!) -- is that something we should have to put up with? Because the siblings sometimes don't know if they can believe mom (she exaggerates and freaks out easily), they tend to ignore these complaints. As the person who doles out mom's money for the nursing home, I'm incline to want to make an issue of it. They (the nursing home) knows she has complaints; they know she has "bathroom issues," they offer platitudes and "don't hesitate to contact us" lines -- but the situation goes unresolved. No one wants to get anyone in trouble. We just want my mom to be able to use the bathroom WHENEVER she needs to (and she requires assistance).

How do I approach this? Do I assume my mom's not exaggerating? Do I just keep reporting over and over and over? Do I threaten? Do I go over them and to the ombudsman (who has spoken to my mother, who is hard to follow, and I think they don't believe her) ?

Is there any advice that I could offer TO MY MOM to help her better deal with this? She is humiliated when she doesn't make it to the bathroom.

Expert Answers

Merrily Orsini, MSSW, was a pioneer in the business of providing geriatric care managed in-home care. She currently serves on the board of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice and is Chair of the Private Duty Homecare Association. She holds a master's degree in social work and is a nationally known writer and speaker on aging, elder issues, and in-home care.

The answer to this is not a simple one. You do not mention if your mother has a dementia. Assuming that she does not, although you say she is "hard to follow", you should listen to what she says. However, complaining to the nursing home is only one option. How about trying to solve the problem? What is she was put on a schedule so that she was assisted to the toilet every two hours, so that she could void regularly and thus not have to ask. Nursing homes do not provide one on one care, so sometimes it is difficult to respond immediately. This would take the burden off of them for immediate response, and allow her her dignity. You could even ask them to chart it, so you could verify that it was done.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

By all means, believe your Mom! Our Mom has dementia and is in assisted living. We have been with her on more than one occasion when it took up to half an hour to answer her call for help. Sure the facilities can't help everyone at once, but consistent delays mean somebody isn't doing their job. Keep talking to the management about it. Merrily's suggestion is request a 2 hr toilet schedule (with documentation) is a good one. We kept bringing the situation to the attention of the supervisor and eventually when they understood Mom's internal schedule, things got much better.