Our vulnerable citizens residing in long-term care and skilled nursing facilities, often physically and/or mentally disabled, are in dire need of our support and help. In this time of isolation and loneliness, they are suffering. State and local officials and state ombudsman volunteers have limited access to residents and can no longer monitor what is going on behind closed doors.
People are dying. Oregon state statistics show that 43 percent of deaths from COVID-19 occur in long-term facilities. However, statistics cannot show how many have died from neglect due to isolation and poorly trained staff, commonly paired with understaffing.
Residents often do not get basic care, like bathing or oral hygiene. It has been reported that some residents have not been bathed since restrictions began, more than three months ago. Some, who cannot move by themselves, are left in bed to develop bedsores and other skin problems.
Those who try to get out of bed without help often fall because the staffing is inadequate, and they can no longer wait to get their needs met. Imagine falling, possibly causing great bodily harm or death, because you need the bathroom, and no one answers your call. Imagine lying in pain on the floor until someone comes. It is happening all over the state and nation.
Community members are left to shelter in their room, and in doing so, cannot get the exercise or companionship that they typically have and still need. The longer these basic needs are unmet, memory issues increase and health declines, especially with the most marginalized and disempowered residents. Without social interaction, many will slowly decline in health and some will prematurely die.
It is our responsibility as concerned citizens to ensure that the Oregon Legislature places more control over the number and quality of care-staff, so there is at least adequate, preferably good, quality care.
When underpaid, under-trained and overworked staff fail to support these residents, our entire society loses. Our society is only as good as the care we give to the most vulnerable among us. We are showing that we care about our vulnerable citizens by the responses we are making toward societal injustices. This is one more injustice to change.
Proper COVID-19 testing and proper preventative measures need to be enforced to make sure everybody is safe. We need to contact our legislators to ensure they know we are watching how they respond to the crisis facing our vulnerable citizens. Most long-term care facilities are run by large multi-state companies who are very often more concerned about profit than the welfare of residents and staff.
Community advocates need to ensure that all types of facilities are held fully accountable for their actions and/or inactions during this COVID-19 emergency health situation — with no exceptions. All workers and residents need full support from both federal and state with testing and PPE supplies.
All endangered residents deserve protection. All endangered residents deserve your caring and actions on their behalf. Please advocate for them with your state and federal officials. Write or call your state representatives and senators. Demand actions that protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Lee Bliven writes on behalf of CareWorks of Lane County and as a concerned husband and family caregiver. He is a retired Oregon state long-term care ombudsman volunteer, caregiver for an ex-resident of long-term/memory care and treasurer of CareWorks of Lane County within the Eugene-Springfield Solidarity Network (ESSN). To contact: firstname.lastname@example.org