October is Residents' Rights MonthOct 03, 2022 12:30PM ● By Sandy Walker
Friday, March 13, 2020. The date is firmly marked in my mind because of the horrors that would define the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic for our most vulnerable citizens—those living in long-term care facilities.
Whirling and spiraling out of control like Alice down the rabbit hole, staff in long-term care facilities quickly found themselves in uncharted territory. Noting the toll the virus was taking on those living in congregate housing like nursing homes and assisted living, government agencies chose to limit visitors before locking down facilities completely. Seniors who were suddenly deprived of visitors could only weep at the loss. Many with diminished capacity languished, failing to understand why their loved ones had abandoned them.
“I was so lonely. The staff really tried hard and did they best they could, but it wasn’t the same as my family,” said local resident Mary.
As the long-term care ombudsman/advocate in Montrose and Delta counties, I was perplexed. How could the rights of elders which I had promoted so fiercely be suddenly vanquished?
Residents’ Rights are guaranteed by the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act, which requires nursing homes to promote and protect the rights of each resident while placing emphasis on individual dignity and self-determination. These rights are further emphasized under Colorado law for individuals living in assisted living and other board-and-care facilities.
Namely, the right of access to visitors of the residents’ choosing at any time, and to participate in social, religious and community activities had been completely blocked by pandemic regulations.
“My church is my family,” said local resident Harold. “My soul suffered not being able to attend each week.”
So many residents and families called demanding to know when their freedoms would resume. As their ombudsman, I empowered them to voice their grievances to federal, state and local governments. Eventually, their voices were heard when outdoor visits were allowed as early as that summer. The rollout of vaccines further eased restrictions. And now, thankfully, the rights of visitation and access to communities have been restored.
“I was missing hugs from my daughter. I was afraid that I would die before I could be with her again,” said local resident Bess.
Many residents have returned to church and have resumed getting together with family and friends. Local resident Bob can go fishing again. James is able to dine at his favorite fried chicken restaurant.
In October we celebrate Residents’ Rights Month. This year is especially heartfelt, as the theme “Inspiring Unity Within Our Community” highlights the fact that being a part of a community is vital to our health and well-being.
It is my privilege to have served residents in my region through the trials and tribulations of the pandemic. I am in awe of their strength and resiliency! Thank you to all the staff who stuck by residents during this period and became more than just caregivers.
Finally, If you know someone living in long-term care, go visit them. They’ve missed out on a lot over the last two years.
Happy Residents’ Rights Month!