Fourteen months ago and 18-point bill of rights for Maryland nursing home patients went into effect guaranteeing such rights as privacy, dignified treatment and management of one's own financial affairs.
While the bill is on the books, few people have heard about it, according to a state official charged with helping nursing patients and their families resolve problems with nursing homes.
"My office gets inquiries and complaints about patients abruptly discharged from ahome without being know the bill of rights says they can only be discharged or transferred for one of three specific reasons, that they must be told why they're being transferred, and that they must be given 30 days notice unless it's a medical emergency," Dorothy Doyle, nursing home advocate for the Maryland Office on Aging, told a forum held this week at Prince George's Community College.
"We need to let people know what their rights are in the nursing homes and how they can proceed with grievances when they think their rights are abused," she said.
The forum was sponsored by the Office on Aging, the Maryland Consortium from Gerontology in Higher Education, the college and the Prince George's County Department of Human Resources. It was the first and five forums planned throughout the state to educate consumers and prefessionals about the rights and responsibilities detailed in the January, 1976, alw.
Selma Rosen, assistant administrator for Sylvan Manor Health Care Center, told the auidience of 75 that through she supported the ideals behind the bill, she lamented the need to legislate dignified care and the ensuing paperwork the bill would probably create.
"The documentation behind these programs is tremendous and I hate to see professionals spending so much time with paper work because I would rather see them on the floor with patients," she said.
In a peppery delivery, Betty Hamburger, president of the Maryland Advocates for the Aging, ticked off the undignified treatment and lack of privacy to which nursing home residents are subjected, how the bill was a first step in curing those ills, and how it was up the community at large to play the advocate's role for nursing home patients.
The 72-year-old Hamburger said, "A person of my generation doesn't like an aide to come by, tweak her hair and call her cutey or honey or even by her first name if she hasn't given permission. It's undignified to talk about us in the third person the way some staff do."
The bill requires that all patients be informed verbally of their rights and that a bill of rights be posted in a prominent place. Pointing straight up in the air, Humburger said she was some "posted up there, some behind doors, some in small type. Some of the bills were the nursing homes' own version, not the state act with all 18 rights. It's up to us as consumers - and if we're lucky enough to live that long we'll probably be consumers - to become advocates for our friends and relatives in nursing homes now so that when our time comes it will be a better place to go."
The four other forums will be held April 13 at Chesapeake College in Wye Mill; on April 21 at Essex Community Collge; on May 11 at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, and on May 18 at Hagerstown Junior College. Like the Prince George's forum, the programs will feature speakers followed by question and answer periods.