We need empathy, not politics, in getting answers about nursing home deaths

| 14 May 2021 | 01:49

To the Editor:

My uncle was a resident of what was at the time called Andover Subacute nursing home for three years. During his stay I would visit him often and bring him Dunkin Donuts coffee. When it would get cold outside, I provided him with a warm coat and hat as he liked to sit outside with his friends.

Just to give you and idea of what conditions were like, I had to purchase a safe for my uncle because his belongings were stolen on a regular basis. He loved music, especially ABBA, and his brother purchased an iPad for him so he could listen to music, and we tried to teach him to use it to text. Unfortunately, that was stolen by an aide. We will say “presumably,” as there was no video surveillance. However, it was something all the residents knew to do, hide your belongings from the aides.

Then the red Tommy Hilfiger coat I bought him was stolen. It clearly could not fit in the safe, and I would never have conceived that anyone would steal his coat. I reported each theft, of course, and was told it went through all the proper channels and nothing was done.

Being the social worker that I am, I could not accept that my uncle and the other residents were being taken advantage of in this way by staff. I wrote a letter to the owner, but my uncle urged me to stop advocating as it may cause repercussions for him with the aides.

This was the subculture of where he lived. Everyone knew it was happening and just accepted it. My uncle died in Andover on April 4, 2020, when Covid struck, just like so many others horrifically. I just want those who may not have spent years in Andover prior to all of the media attention to know what it was like before all eyes were on it, and this is one small example of what Andover was like. Anyone who had a family member in Andover knows that it had serious and critical problems well before Covid struck, so to make this proposed ballot investigation a “state problem” solely is so incredibly tone deaf.

For those of us who lived through this and were impacted so acutely, it is very hard to see politicians claim to know more than those of us who were actually in the facility for years and saw the condition of things firsthand.

I tried sharing my perspective with the Sussex County Commissioners, asking them to not politicize the tragedy, as I don’t want my uncle’s death tied to a political battle with the state over a ballot question. Like any family member who lost a loved one in Andover, I have wanted answers as to how can we prevent this from ever happening again, so I have researched and reached out to legislators and lawmakers. Some have been very helpful and kind, and really listened to my perspective, wanting to hear what it was like in Andover.

I cannot say that is what I felt from the commissioners. I have e-mailed them regarding Andover and spoken at meetings, and at no point did I feel empathy, or even any recognition of my thoughts, words, or my loss. In contrast, some of the other lawmakers have shared with me that there are active investigations taking place and there is a bipartisan taskforce that was formed that actually includes family members, nursing home residents, nurses and other professionals. I was so pleased to hear that those of us that have actually been on the frontlines were being listened to and heard when they are considering reform and recommendations. Those lawmakers also extended their condolences.

What I am hoping is our county will consider showing the same empathy and humanity in how they treat subject matters and those who share their stories with the board. It is not an easy thing to do and should be treated with respect. When someone you love dies tragically, it is not easy to talk about it. I don’t want my uncle’s death used in a political battle with a controversial ballot question.

There already is an investigation and a taskforce now investigating long-term care facilities. The ballot question serves the commissioners, and may improve voter turnout, but it would not begin until well after November, so I still don’t see how this serves family members who need answers now.

Please remember empathy for those you serve over politics.

Kristy Lavin