2013-01-18 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

Tidewater reveals truth
Commentary By Moya McLellan

In the Rockaways, basements have been pumped and the sandy streets have been cleared. Fishermen enjoy their catch and surfers ride the waves. But has there been any change in Promenade Rehabilitation & Health Care Center on Beach 114th Street, or has the interest already receded, like the flood, soon to be forgotten by those who did not live it?

The Promenade Nursing Home abandoned its residents long before Hurricane Sandy hit. In my nine days as an employee of the recreation department, I witnessed the neglect and humiliation that the residents suffer on a daily basis. In July, I filed a quality of life complaint with the New York State Department of Health, and in the midst of the media attention on Promenade’s faulty care during and after the hurricane, the conclusion of the investigation found “no evidence of violations of State and Federal regulations.” I cannot accept this lie.

My training for the recreation department was all about how to manipulate paperwork so that each resident is documented as engaging in meaningful activities. When someone complains to the New York State Department of Health that their family member or friend is not doing anything at Promenade, on paper the recreation director can prove this to be false. For example, any resident that is in the room during an arts and crafts activity, which entails tossing children’s puzzles in front of the residents and leaving them unopened for an hour while the staff reads the newspaper, is marked as present and given codes to suggest mental and physical stimulation. “When are we getting started?” a resident asked me just before the puzzles were collected. She may have signs of dementia, but she knew what was going on.

Each floor has a dayroom. Most residents are mandated to be in this room if they choose not to go to the main recreation room. The TV drones all day and night and residents are placed at a table, many of them facing the wall. “Could you turn me around so I can look at someone?” one resident asked. Eternally, they sit alone in their thoughts with nobody to talk to, though the room is filled with people. On the fourth floor, a resident suffers and writhes on a bed in the recreation room while the others observe whether they want to or not. Certainly their fears are magnified in the dismal silence.

Some days, the activities on the recreation calendar are not even attempted. This is especially apparent during the last week of the month. All activities are cancelled while the recreation staff spends hours preparing and hanging the next month’s calendars. “I am going to die of boredom,” a resident told me while waiting to go outside for the patio time that didn’t exist. The employees were too busy coloring.

Federal regulation 42 CFR 483.15 states that the facility must maintain the dignity and respect of each resident, yet the incontinence care at Promenade is unhygienic and insulting. When a resident asks to use the bathroom, there is all too often nobody available or willing to help them, and they are left to suffer the embarrassing consequences.

So who is at fault? The recreation staff member who earns $8.50 an hour, is not given benefits and receives no training? The employees who were not told of the scabies outbreak on the sixth floor and were told to transport infected residents to the main recreation room to share tables and chairs with other residents and staff members? When an employee ran away from a scratching resident screaming, who was to blame for the confusion and despair left behind? The Director of Recreation is responsible for the Therapeutic Recreation calendar that never really happens and for creating a lifeless atmosphere. The owner should be held accountable for receiving Medicare and Medicaid money to care for these residents while purposely ignoring their physical, mental and psychosocial needs. The New York State Department of Health is guilty of ignoring the truth.

While talking to Joseph on a small whiteboard because he recently lost his hearing, I was appalled at how isolated he was from human interaction. Speaking through a tube, he asked me if I knew the song “Piggies” by the Beatles. I hope that you will read the lyrics and think of him on the fifth floor.

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