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Nursing home task force focuses on staffing

Akron Beacon Journal - 1/22/2020

Steve Piskor placed a camera in his mother's room at a Cleveland nursing home in 2011.

From the camera's recordings, Piskor discovered eight aides abusing his then-78-year-old mother, Esther, who had Alzheimer's disease and died in 2018.

Eventually, two of the aides went to prison, three were fired and three were disciplined, Piskor said.

The family's experience with elder abuse inspired Senate Bill 255 and House Bill 461, or "Esther's Law," companion legislation introduced in the Ohio legislature in December. It would allow residents of facilities like nursing homes and assisted living facilities to set up a video recording device in their room.

"I'm not trying to say all aides are bad and all nursing homes are bad...What we're trying to do is just stop the abuse," said Piskor, 65, of Cleveland.

Piskor shared his experience during the second meeting of the Summit County Nursing Homes and Facilities Task Force on Tuesday morning in the Greater Akron Chamber office.

The group is focusing on three areas: reviewing current conditions, assessing possible solutions and best practices, and making recommendations. The group will then present its findings and recommendations to Summit County Council and the county executive in a written report later this year.

At its first meeting in November, four committees were created: legislation, operations, visitation of facilities and staffing, with each committee giving an update Tuesday.

One of the primary focuses of the task force is staffing issues. Wayside Farm Nursing & Rehabilitation Center administrator and task force member Matthew Pool called staff retention and recruitment a "top priority."

"Without staff, we're not going to have the quality of care that we're looking for," he said.

Preliminary ideas from the task force include a workforce development initiative with Stark State College and a Peace Corps-style training program within the county for young people interested in health care or caregiving. The program would allow them to get experience in nursing homes and other facilities and potentially be hired permanently in the future.

"We've been hearing this ever since we mentioned we were looking into this, not only from the providers of the service but from families who have loved ones in the facilities," Summit County Council President Jeff Wilhite said of staffing issues.

Wilhite proposed creating the group and is chairing the task force.

He also noted the impediments that can keep people from getting to work, like transportation or daycare for their children, and said the task force could help look for solutions to those issues.

Summit County Executive's Office senior administrator and task force member Whitney Spencer proposed working with Akron Public Schools, which offers healthcare-related pathways through its College and Career Academies, on the staffing issues affecting nursing homes and other facilities.

Kim Hone McMahan, a retired Beacon Journal reporter and columnist whose 103-year-old mother was injured in a nursing home in May, said staff at nursing homes and other facilities are often underpaid, under-trained and difficult to retain, saying she's found some facilities with a turnover rate of 100%.

"Many if not most incidents in nursing homes are [due to] a lack of staffing, proper staffing," said McMahan, saying the lack of proper staffing "has reached a crisis."

Summit County Council approved creating the task force in August. The idea for the group came about after a June report listed a Copley facility that closed last summer, Fairlawn Rehab and Nursing Center, among the worst in the nation.

Future task force meetings are scheduled for Feb. 18, March 24, April 21 and May 19, all at 10 a.m. in the Greater Akron Chamber conference room in Akron's AES Building, 388 S. Main St., Suite 205. The meetings are open to the public.

For questions, call the Summit County Council office at 330-643-2725.

Contact Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, emills@thebeaconjournal.com and on Twitter at @EmilyMills818.

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