HIPAA

Long-term care residents’ rights: Part 5

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Photo credit: Ian Merritt
Photo credit: Ian Merritt

Welcome to Part 5 of my series on long-term care (LTC) residents’ rights.  Part 1 focused on a resident’s right to make choices that are important to her.  In Part 2, I discussed the topic of LTC admission procedures, specifically, a Waiver of Liability document that is oftentimes included  in the admission packet.  Part 3 addressed eviction/discharge from a long-term care facility, and Part 4 addressed abuse and substandard care.  Today’s topic addresses a resident’s right to choose, or reject, prescribed medical care.

A pile of poo disguised as a hot dog

I guess when you don’t have a choice in the matter you gradually come around to liking life in the assisted living “community” as the staff at this facility like to call it. When I couldn’t get around my old place without the constant threat of falling in the neighborhood or falling asleep at the wheel of my 1994 Mercury Sable, I took my son’s advice as gospel, and let him move me five miles from my lady friends, and ten miles from the Baptist church I had attended for God knows how long.

Now, my only option is to attend an ecumenical service in the activity room each Sunday – it more or less satisfies those who rely on some sort of ritual to get them through the following week – and I have a completely new set of lady friends with whom I eat every meal.

It must be baseball season; for lunch today, the dining room is decorated with red, white, and blue crepe paper and the centerpieces contain a miniature bat and ball placed “just so” surrounded by a pile of sticky Cracker Jacks that we’re told are not edible, but I try one anyway and add credibility to the admonishment by spitting it out into my napkin.

Lord have mercy, we even have a special lunch menu from which we can choose what apparently is considered food one would eat at sporting exhibitions: hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, all served with a gigantic phallic-looking dill pickle on the side. Now, don’t act so shocked.  The young people don’t think us older folk know what the intimate body parts are called and that we would never know what to do with them even if we did, but let me tell you, my group of lady friends have a laugh or two over things of a sexual nature. We’re not dead yet and most of our memories of such things are still intact.

The four of us ordered the chili dog special and got caught up on all the latest news since the previous time we saw each other. About ten minutes later, my meal was served, followed by everyone else’s, and the young server said, “Bon appetite!” But something was horribly wrong. Before the gal got too far away, I beckoned her back to the table. “Sweetie, what is this pile of dog-poop looking stuff on my plate?”

“That’s your chili dog.”

“My lady friends ordered the same thing I ordered and yet look at each of theirs: a hot dog is nestled into a bun, smothered by chili, cheddar cheese, and a few onions. My hot dog, on the other hand, looks like a pile of poo!”

The waitress addressed me, and therefore all the other ladies at the table.  “We have a Special Menu report the kitchen & wait staff are required to review before each meal. There was an entry for you stating that all your food must be pureed because you’ve been having difficulty swallowing. Evidently, when you went out to dinner with your son a couple days ago, you almost aspirated on a piece of flank steak.  Remember?   The Maitre d’ of that restaurant had to Heimlich you. You could have choked! You won’t choke on pureed food – or at least we hope you don’t – so that’s what you have to eat. Doctor’s orders.”

My lady friends looked embarrassed for me and pretended that this youngster wasn’t talking about my health issues in front of everyone within hearing range. But that’s not the only thing that’s bothering me right now: I want to eat a chili dog that looks like the rest of the chili dogs on the table so I decided to tell the server. “I’m sorry, remind me of your name, sweetie?”

“My name is Jessica.”

I picked up the plate of poo and shoved it towards her. “Jessica, please toss this mess in the trash and bring out a real chili dog, and while you’re at it, I want a hefty serving of French fries as well.”

“I can’t do that Mrs. Bellamy, I’ll get in trouble.”

“You’ll get in trouble if you don’t provide me with the food that I’ve requested. Please take this plate away from me, my arm is getting tired holding it up.”

The youngster took my plate and with the other hand, signaled her boss to join her in the kitchen – no doubt to report my aberrant behavior. My lady friends, however, applauded my assertive efforts, and offered me a bite of their dogs while I waited for mine to be served.

Mrs. Bellamy’s pureed diet was prescribed by her doctor; as such, it is now a part of her medical profile at the assisted living facility in which she lives.  Mrs. Bellamy chose to ignore her doctor’s orders – certainly her right whether she lived in her private home or this public facility.  Residents at LTC facilities have the right to refuse prescribed treatments such as restrictive diets, medications, or physical therapy to name a few.  As cognitively capable adults, they have the right to go against doctor’s orders, fully understanding the risks of not abiding by such orders.

42 CFR 483.10

(b) Notice of rights and services.

(1) The facility must inform the resident both orally and in writing in a language that the resident understands of his or her rights and rules and regulations governing resident conduct and responsibilities during the stay in the facility…

(3)  The resident has the right to be fully informed in language that he or she can understand, of his or her total health status, including but not limited to, his or her medical condition;

(4) The resident has the right to refuse treatment, to refuse to participate in experimental research, and to formulate an advance directive as specified in paragraph (8) of this section;  …

(d)  Free choice.  The resident has the right to –

(1)  Choose a personal attending physician;

(2) Be fully informed in advance about care and treatment and of any changes in that care or treatment that may affect the resident’s well-being; and

(3) Unless adjudged incompetent or otherwise found to be incapacitated under the laws of the State, participate in planning care and treatment or changes in care and treatment.  See also Washington State law RCW 74.42.040(3)

Additionally, Mrs. Bellamy’s medical condition should  not have been discussed in front of everyone within hearing distance: her lady friends, other residents seated adjacent to Mrs. Bellamy’s table.  The HIPAA Privacy Rule also applies in LTC settings.  Jessica, the server, violated Mrs. Bellamy’s right to privacy by talking about her medical condition.

If you or a loved one need assistance regarding LTC residents’ rights, contact your local LTC Ombudsman office which can be located at the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center.

Part 6, the final installment of this series, will deal with dignity and quality of life.  Part 6 will be posted on Wednesday morning, November 26.

Customer loyalty: you have to earn it

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Those of you in business of any type whether medical, construction, retail, food or travel industry, or any of the thousands of business types out there:

What are you doing to retain your customers?

The following incident occurred more than two years ago and serves as a good illustration of failed customer retention.

I moved to a suburb of Seattle in 1997 and became a client/patient of a local chiropractor.  This Doctor of Chiropractic knew all there was to know about me structurally because she treated me for fourteen years.  One of the issues of which she was keenly aware was my cervical spine (neck) discomfort.  After much deliberation and procrastination, I finally decided to have it surgically treated.  I had discussed my treatment options with my chiropractor at length throughout my time as her patient and she concurred that I might very well benefit from the C5/C6 disc replacement and fusion.

Xray of cervical spine
Xray of cervical spine – not mine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One week before my surgery I attended my chiropractic appointment and upon my departure that day I was wished well with the goal of returning for treatment once my neck fusion was completely healed.

Fast forward one year.  During that year of healing I did not receive a phone call, nor did I receive a card; I received nothing resembling any indication that they valued my previous fourteen years of patronage.  So I did something about it.

I wrote a very kind but professional letter expressing my disappointment in the management of this chiropractic office – a business that consists of one chiropractor and four staff members.  I told her that I was offended at having been ignored.  Here’s an excerpt from my letter:

I am offended by an apparent disregard for a patient’s longtime loyalty and patronage of your practice.   In my mind, I felt that a provider of chiropractic care, which is so much more person-focused than traditional medical care, would value the patient/doctor relationship and reach out to this patient given the length of her patronage.  That was not the case, so I have chosen not to resume treatment under your care.

You can be certain that I received a call within days of sending that letter, a call that went to voicemail while I was away from the house.  The doctor fell all over herself gushing and oozing with regret while at the same time explaining her reason for doing nothing: “I wanted to protect your privacy.”

Come again?  Does that mean you were disrespecting my privacy each time your office called to remind me of the 100’s of appointments I attended for fourteen years?  No.  You wanted to be certain I would show up.  And how does sending a card to my home disrespect my privacy?  It doesn’t.  The excuse was weak and I stuck to my guns.  Businesses need to realize that the least expensive and best marketing strategy involves word of mouth advertising.  On the flip side, the least expensive and worst marketing strategy involves word of mouth advertising.

How much money have you lost because you ignored your customers?

Caregiving: The Ultimate Team Sport

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What’s a pitcher without a catcher?  A quarterback without a receiver?  A point guard without a center?  Individuals – that’s what they are.  They are not a team.  Caregiving should never be an individual effort because quite frankly, one person can not do it all.

Take a deep breath; think happy thoughts; and do your best.

Whether the primary caregiver actually does hands-on-care or is the primary “manager” of a loved one’s day-to-day life, that caregiver needs all the support he or she can get.  For the purposes of this article we’re going to assume that the loved one, Mom, lives in a long-term care (LTC) facility cared for by professionals.  As with every sports team, there is a General Manager of the team – responsible for the overall smooth running of the team, and then there are the individual team members without whom there would be no support whatsoever.  Let’s look at the responsibilities of each person on the team. GENERAL MANAGER: whether self-assigned or chosen, the GM is usually Mom’s primary contact/visitor.  He or she will also be the main point of contact with the staff at the LTC facility and as such, should definitely be on the “approved list” of people with whom the care staff can discuss every aspect of Mom’s care.  Getting on the approved list might involve one or both of the following:

  • Facility Care Plan/Residential Agreement.  Because of the restrictions resulting from the enactment of HIPAA anyone other than the actual patient/resident must be given permission to receive confidential information regarding another individual’s health condition.  There is usually a section on LTC facility agreements and/or care plans wherein a primary family member is listed and approved as the person who can have access to all confidential information regarding the resident’s/loved one’s care.  Similarly you’ll want to be on the approved list for Mom’s doctors so you’re able to freely communicate with medical personnel regarding any ongoing health concerns.  If Mom is able, she will need to sign the necessary documents that indicate her decision to allow that confidential health information be shared with you.
  • Power of Attorney for Health Care.  This legal document allows someone, usually a family member, to speak on behalf of a loved one who may not be able to do so on her own.  I’m not a lawyer so I’m not offering any advice regarding this document but the attached link will give you a thumbnail sketch addressing when the appropriateness of such a document comes into play.

Now back to the General Manager’s duties: the GM needs to play on the strengths of each team member.

Alzheimer’s Walking Team: myself, my hubby and my brother

Hold a family meeting – even involving those living out of town via telephone or skype – to discuss the strengths that each possesses and ones’ willingness to exercise those strengths.  Once those team members’ tasks have been assigned or volunteered for, it’s up to the General Manager to provide oversight to assure each task is being accomplished, and to discern if any team member needs assistance completing tasks.  As you can see, taking on the role of General Manager carries a lot of responsibility and quite frankly, anyone who assumes this role needs to be good and ready to carry a heavy load.  The good news, however, is that the GM is not alone – there are additional members of the team.

FINANCE MANAGER.  Your older sister is a finance whiz who’s very comfortable crunching numbers.  She gets to take over the day-to-day system of bill paying, investment monitoring, and the like.  You might even arrange for all mail to go to this sister’s home so that she has immediate access to timely financial information.

INSURANCE MANAGER.  One of your brothers who works in the health insurance industry understands the ins and outs of private insurance and as it relates to Medicare.  Congratulations, his strength will contribute greatly to the whole.  But you don’t have to work for an insurance company to excel at this task.  Some of us – yes, I’m one of them – really “gets it” when it comes to reconciling Explanations of Benefits (EOB) documents from health insurance companies.  The Insurance Manager will work hand in hand with the Finance Manager to assure that any balances due a particular medical professional or institution is paid.  This can really get sticky when attempting to make sure that everyone who is responsible for paying a part of the medical service – private insurance companies and Medicare – have paid their part prior to sending out a check for the balance.  But effective Finance & Insurance Managers can successfully get the job done.

TRANSPORTATION MANAGER.Your other sister has recently retired, or has a very flexible work schedule, and has the ability to take Mom to the various doctor appointments that occur each month.  Terrific.

Anyone need a cab?

That sister will be doing the running around with Mom and can make sure each appointment is scheduled, attended, and summarized.  Since she’s going to these appointments with Mom, she can sit in on the appointment and bring up issues about which the family has concerns; she can take notes on what transpires during the doctor visit; then she can report the medical updates to the family so everyone is on the same page every step of the way.  This sister will also need to be on the approved HIPAA document that the physician’s office requires in order for her to communicate and interact in such a way as to be on top of Mom’s ongoing health care.

FAMILY DYNAMICS THAT GET IN THE WAY OF EFFECTIVE MANAGING.  Let’s face it, not every family gets along well enough to avoid the bumps in the caregiving road.  If family dynamics were strained to begin with, you can certainly expect those dynamics to be heightened in stressful situations – and caring for Mom is certainly one of them.  My article “Family dynamics that hamper caregiving success,” addresses family dysfunction and offers advice on how to lessen its impact on your caregiving team.

A team’s success is attainable – but each member has to dedicate themselves to the task at hand  for that to happen.