TOPEKA — Nursing home administrator Greta Wakefield called the state's Adult Protective Services hotline after a man told her his wife would be better off dead than in the nursing home and refused to let her stay any longer.
"He said 'If she’s lucky, she'll just die on the way home,'" Wakefield said Tuesday, testifying before the House Aging and Long-term Care Committee.
The hotline is administered by the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. People are encouraged to use it to alert officials of actual or potential abuse or neglect of elderly or disabled persons.
Wakefield runs the nursing home in Moran, a town of about 600 people in Allen County. She said the woman, who was in her early 90s, had been admitted to the facility after being discharged from a Kansas City hospital.
After a short stay, Wakefield said, the woman was taken home by her husband despite his wife's poor condition and the fact that Wakefield was convinced he would be unable to properly to care for her.
"We had no legal recourse," Wakefield said. "We couldn't stop him. That’s why we called APS."
But no one from SRS returned the nursing home’s calls, she said.
A few months later, the woman once again was hospitalized and sent to Moran Manor a second time upon discharge from the hospital.
"What happened was he was trying to wheel her outside to take her to the doctor's office and she fell out of the wheelchair and down some stairs," Wakefield said.
After the woman was admitted, she said, doctors discovered she had developed a very large bedsore that required treatment.
"Her husband told me 'I got tired of changing her, so I let the brief (diaper) do its job until it couldn't do it anymore,'" Wakefield said.
Once again, she said, Adult Protective Services was called and once again SRS officials failed to intervene.
"Their response was, 'She's in a nursing home. She’s safe,' even though her husband, who was sleeping in a van in our parking lot, kept coming in every day saying he was going to take her home."
The woman died at the nursing home.
"APS did nothing to protect her," Wakefield said.
State welfare officials can work with the courts to have a person committed or held in a nursing home if it is deemed in the best interest of the individual and the individual is ruled incompetent. More often or more likely, in the case of older people, the agency would try to work directly with the individual or with family members to persuade them that they need more care or services than they can manage on their own at home.
Greta Wakefield, administrator at Moran Maner Nursing
Home, testified Tuesday before the House Committee on
Aging and Long-term Care. (Photo by Dave Ranney)
Larry Nanny, who runs the Eureka Nursing Center in Eureka, said he'd had a similarly frustrating experience after letting Adult Protective Services know about a 90-year-old woman who had come to the center after being hospitalized. The woman, who had no family, then insisted she be released to go home. Her house was a mobile home that was in disrepair, infested with raccoons and had no running water or heat.
For more than four months, Adult Protective Services was unresponsive, Nanny said.
"It got to the point where I wasn’t calling them because I thought they’d do something," he said. "I was calling so I could put a note in her file that said I'd called."
Eventually, an SRS social worker came to the nursing home, helped the woman apply for Medicaid and convinced her to remain at the nursing home.
Now, Nanny said, Eureka Nursing Center is expected to write off about $25,000 in uncompensated care because no one was paying for the woman's services before she went on Medicaid.
"The good thing for the resident is that she was able to get care and services she needs," he said. "The bad thing for us is we’re out the previous five months of care. If APS had jumped in sooner, I doubt we would have had to incur such a huge debt."
After listening to Nanny and Wakefield’s testimony, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bob Bethell, R-Alden, announced that he would introduce a bill to transfer Adult Protective Services from SRS to the Kansas Attorney General’s Office.
Bethell, who's a licensed nursing home administrator, said he was fed up with SRS' oversight of the hotline.
"I was asked a year ago to hold off on this issue, to give the new people (SRS administrators) time to get ahold of the issue," he said. "But from what we heard today – and I can tell you these incidents are not unique - it's pretty clear that not much happened in 2011."
Rep. Ramon Gonzales, a Perry Republican, said he also was frustrated with the hotline.
"I'm in law enforcement," he said. "I've called the hotline and not received any follow up. It's like you have to call three or four times before anybody calls you back."
The committee is expected to hear testimony Thursday from Gina Meier-Hummel, director of children and family services at SRS. Her division oversees the hotline.
In an email to KHI News Service, Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for SRS, said the agency has "no ability" to let callers know if their reports had been screened in for follow-up or screened out.
"It is an IT (information technology) issue," she wrote.
Currently, SRS has 47 social workers investigating reports of adult abuse and exploitation. Five years ago, there were 57.