LTC ombudsman discovers first-hand dehumanizing nature of some nursing home procedures

  • One of my most cherished mottos is that we can’t really know – deeply and completely – what another person feels or is going through unless we’ve experienced their pain. An obviously enlightened, educated long-term care advocate has proven this old adage to be correct.

    Deb Holtz is Minnesota’s Long-term care ombudsman, the top consumer advocate for thousands of elderly Minnesotans. Her career is helping nursing home residents or their families, who have complaints about facility care, resolve those complaints.

    Holtz recently was admitted to a nursing home for therapy after complications from shoulder replacement surgery in late May left her without use of her right arm or hand.  An article in the StarTribune says that Holtz cut her nursing home visit short after just 25 hours. She opted for therapy elsewhere.

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    Hotlz said in the interview that the worst part for her was a skin check that made her feel like she was undergoing a strip search. "I felt like I lost part of my dignity…I know it sounds completely irrational, but part of me didn't want to go to sleep that night because I didn't know who would come into my room and do any more checks. It was very dehumanizing," she said.

    Even good nursing homes can be substandard at times

    According to the article, the nursing home Holtz entered is considered one of the best in the state. A representative has stated that Holtz’ experience was highly unusual – she was left sitting alone for hours before she even was checked on  - and that the home would look into and correct any problems.

    Holtz was quoted in the article as saying, "If it was that uncomfortable for me and that scary for me, I just kept thinking of the older people that come in and don't know that they have choices or are already confused and sad or probably depressed they are going there…I thought again about the lack of remembering that this is a person…I'm not just a check mark on your to-do list.”

    The importance of an advocate

    Likely the nursing home in question is, in general, very good.  Likely there were circumstances during Holtz’ short stay that made her care experience the exception rather than the rule. But her experience shows us the importance not only of official advocates like Holtz, but of family advocates who need to keep a close eye on their loved ones who live in even very good facilities.


    When people ask me about problems they encounter while placing a loved one in a nursing home or other care facility, I suggest they approach the staff in a friendly manner as part of the care team. I ask that, absent actual abuse or some emergency situation, they talk with the hands-on caregiver first. If that doesn’t solve the problem, go up the command chain, to the floor nurse and even to the administrator if necessary. If they get no improvement, they then need to contact their ombudsman. The website allows people to type in a Zip code to find their local representative.


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    How lucky Minnesotans are that Holtz had this very uncomfortable experience. My feeling is that her advocacy, which was already strong, will take on a new urgency and power. Some things happen for a reason.


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Published On: July 27, 2011