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Response to call bells inadequate

Published on June 16th, 2008

The Salt Lake Tribune had an article about response times to call lights.  This is a major problem in many nursing homes leading to falls or loss of dignitiy.  Typically, a resident who needs assistance to go to the bathroom hits the call light.  No response.  The resident then has two choices: 1.  Attempt to get up without assistance and risk falling, or 2. Relieve themselves and sit in their own urine and feces.

Call lights are little red buttons next to every bed and bathroom in every nursing home. When pushed, an alarm should sound at the nurse’s desk and a light flashes over the bedroom door.
These call lights are how the frail and elderly summon for urgent help. But all too often, caretakers are slow to respond, if they respond at all. This is a common complaint from most if not all of our clients.

A Salt Lake Tribune examination shows that state inspectors have cited nearly one-third of Utah’s nursing homes for a call light violation in the past two years. 

At the Hurricane Rehabilitation Center, the call lights didn’t work in 10 rooms.

At the Bear River Valley Care Center, a man confined to a wheelchair waited 25 minutes for help getting into bed. "Sometimes it takes half a day," he told regulators. 

At the Willow Wood Care Center, a woman pushed her call light to get pain medication. She received her pills three hours later.

A slow response to a call light not only can impact a person’s medical care, but also steal their dignity. In a number of cases, people waited so long for help that they ended up soiling themselves.

Utah inspectors receive more complaints about call lights than anything else, said Greg Bateman, who heads the state certification team.  Often, call light problems are a symptom of inadequate staffing.

Because caretakers usually respond faster when they know inspectors are watching, Bateman said he often relies on resident complaints to identify a problem. There is no hard and fast guideline for responding to a call light, but state regulators want to see someone at least assess the person’s needs within the first five minutes.

Advocates for the Disability Law Center keep track of this problem. 
Eileen Maloney, who is a member of the center’s abuse and neglect team, said she visits some homes where call lights are constantly ringing and staff members ignore them.
The industry is teaming with state inspectors to create a new incentive program next year that will encourage nursing homes to replace their old call light system with the latest technology. 
The system would allow homes to document response times, providing proof that either resident complaints are valid or not.

Joe Pioletti
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