How much do you love your neighbor, particularly those who spend years of their lives in a nursing facility? For Christians, the second of the two great commandments spoken by Jesus, in Matthew 22: 34-40, states, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Recently I had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time with my mother in a couple nursing facilities. Mom had been challenged by a stroke at the end of April and in July was battling what was eventually to be diagnosed as Clostridium difficile, a bacteria that causes diarrhea-linked death. It kills more than 14,000 people yearly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Maine has the second-highest death rate from the bacteria in the nation, based on 2007 data, as reported by the Bangor Daily News. Older people residing in nursing facilities receiving antibiotics for urinary tract infections or other chronic infections, and who have reduced immune systems, are likely candidates for the infection.
Maine requires reporting of C. difficile infections if they result in hospital admissions. But nursing care facilities should have to report cases, too. If you have a family member or friend in a nursing facility, and they have diarrhea, advocate for testing, as C. difficile is treatable.
What I saw in the nursing facilities makes me not want to be a patient there in the future. I believe staffing is currently dangerously low in Maine’s nursing facilities — and it’s allowed by Maine regulations governing the licensing of nursing facilities. Summing up section 9.A.4, there must be a minimum of one direct-care provider for five residents on the day shift, one provider for 10 residents on the evening shift and one provider for 15 on the night shift.
At my mother’s facilities, I saw certified nursing assistants and other nursing staff working as fast as they could, trying to keep up with regular duties and call button requests. Mom lay in her feces for long periods on more than one occasion.
We have very kind-hearted CNAs who make perhaps $12 per hour, doing their best, running themselves ragged because of insufficient federal and state reimbursement rates that result in low staff-to-patient ratios. We have the state health department working diligently with insufficient staff to gather data and try to protect the health of the public from C. difficile. Sure, they need a job to pay bills, but what I saw was love from the CNAs. And I trust that state employees care about what they do, too, even though Gov. Paul LePage has criticized hard-working state employees in the past.
Now, the LePage administration is working to reduce funding for MaineCare in order to keep more people less healthy. When it comes to health care, the attitude is to hold the line on spending and keep the money in the hands of the wealthy few. With the number of guidelines that nursing care facilities already have to follow and the tremendous amount of paperwork they must fill out, I am concerned that the administration will set policies that further impact staffing ratios and resident care.
So what can we do to love our neighbors? You and I can vote for politicians whose love for Maine people overrides their fear about losing their job if they were to ask for more money from wealthier residents in the form of increased taxes. I believe these wealthy Mainers are good, decent people, but we all must pay our fair share of taxes and pitch in more taxes to keep people healthy.
Vote for politicians that act out of love for Mainers, not for politicians who continue to support policies that cause poor health and sometimes death to Mainers. As Christians we have a mandate to follow, so we must do what’s right and not hurt our neighbor with our actions at the polls. I would encourage all of us to act out of love, not fear.
Timothy Rogers of Brewer is a licensed social worker and medical technologist registered with the American Society of Clinical Pathology.