"I know of patients who would lie in a wet bed until 1 or 2 p.m. before anyone could come to help them," said Dorothy Jeffrey of Suitland about her stay in a Prince George's County nursing home.
"When people would complain to relatives about their problems, the nurses' aides would say 'She's senile, she doen't know what she's talking about,'" Jeffrey said.
Jeffrey and about 175 other senior citizens appeared before the Prince George's County Council this week to detail some of the problems they saw with nursing home care and to voice their support for proposed legislation authorizing county licensing and inspection of private nursing home facilities.
The legislation is necessary, council member Frank P. Casula said, "because of the state's inability to regulate its long-terms care facilities." As drafted, the bill calls for at least four visits a year - three of them unannounced - by county inspectors. Violators could receive six months in jail or a $1,000 fine. The county also would have the power to adopt additional regulations or more stringent standards than the state has on the books.
"There are only two people in Baltimore to follow up complaints about nursing homes," Jean Dayton of the District 6 Nurses' Association said. "They have been able to deal with emergency situations so far on a same-day basis, but the less serious complaints get delayed."
The state opposes the county legislation on the grounds that it would cause duplication of services, time, and money, according to earlier testimony by Leonard Albert of the state's Department of Mental Hygiene.
Council chairman William B. Amonett admitted that there might be some duplication if the bill passes, but said "This is one area where citizens are willing to bear a little extra burden. It is appalling to me that the industry and state haven't done their job.
Malcolm Rodman, the executive director of the Health Facility of the State of Maryland, a voluntary association of licensed nursing home facilities, opposed the legislation. "Every health care facility supports quality patient care . . . but this ordinance will not provide improved care. It will increase the record keeping and paperwork of the homes.It will create a third tier of bureaucracy and take away from additional patient care to take care of paperwork," he said.
Representatives from the Nursing Home Action Coalition (NHAC) and Betterment for United Seniors presented a skit illustrating their position on nursing home care.
"We have visited many nursing homes and found deplorable conditions," said Martha Wilson, chairwoman of the NHAC. "We want the supervision at the lowest level of government, where it would be most responsible."
"We are talking about the care of our mother, our father, the relatives we cherish," Amonett said. "There can be no compromises, no second-class care in this county."
The bill, which appears to have the support of a majority of council members, will come before the council for final action Nov. 28.