It is unknown how many of our vulnerable elderly fall victim to neglect or abuse each year since such actions are easily hidden from view and underreported. In fact, according to the National Center for Elder Abuse (NCEA), 84 percent of abusive situations involving older adults go unreported or unrecognized.
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have a long-standing reputation of abuse and neglect. The World Report on Violence and Health explains that “mistreatment of older people has been identified in facilities for continuing care (such as nursing homes, residential care, hospitals, and daycare facilities) in almost every country where such institutions exist.”
This widespread epidemic could seem, to many people, too big to tackle.
But for one Cleveland-based real estate agent?
A traumatic experience involving the death of his wife is empowering him to say, “bring it on”.
Carolyn Ruffin had surgery in September of 2014 to remove a brain tumor that doctors discovered during a routine check-up.
After an intense, but successful surgery, Carolyn was moved to a rehabilitation facility to begin her recovery.
What Carolyn and her family didn’t know was that her recovery would barely begin.
In November 2014, Carolyn fell on her head at the rehab center soon after her surgery. This fall put her into a coma and nearly killed her, leading to the beginning of a long fight that would eventually be lost.
“I told her I would never leave her alone at night again, and I slept in each and every facility that she was a patient in, for three years, six months, and five days until the Lord God called her home on May 5, 2018.” -Jesse Ruffin Jr., Carolyn’s husband
Carolyn passed away on May 5, 2018. Jesse Ruffin Jr., Carolyn’s husband of over 41 years, strongly believes that staffing regulations in her rehab facility are partially to blame for her eventual passing. “During the 3 years and 6-months [we were in the facility] we experienced some nurses/nurse aids having to be responsible for as many as 20-25 patients during their shift”, Jesse explained. “We saw the stress, fatigue, nervousness, among other issues from those that were very caring for their profession.”
Ever since her fall, Jesse, the 66-year old real estate agent from Maple Heights, vowed to take what happened to his wife and do all that he can to prevent it from happening to anyone else.
Nursing Facility Patients’ Bill of Rights, AKA Carolyn’s Law
On November 25, 2019, Jesse submitted the initial paperwork in order to hold a vote on the Nursing Facility Patients’ Bill of Rights, otherwise known as Carolyn’s Law.
This amendment, although in its early stages, would require the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) to enforce a variety of different rules and policies in nursing homes and assisted living facilities throughout the state.
The mission of this proposal, according to their website, is to “reduce the nurse/nurse aide to patient ratio in efforts to help prevent life-changing injuries that affect staff, patients, families and loved ones in the rehabilitation and long term care facilities”.
Included in the amendment are issues such as:
- Minimum staffing requirements per patient
- Minimum hours of required direct care per day per patient
- Required patient advocates
One of Jesse’s biggest goals when it comes to Carolyn’s Law is to address the issue of understaffing and decrease the number of patients that each nurse and nurse’s aide has during their 12-hour shifts. Therefore, the proposed amendment would require different staffing requirements for different facilities. At some facilities, the amendment would require at least one licensed nurse for every five patients with higher acuity, or patients requiring a higher amount of care, along with one nurse’s aide for every six patients. For lower acuity patients, or those requiring a lower amount of care, the required ratio would be at least one nurse and one nurse’s aide for every eight patients.
Direct Care Requirements
Another issue that Jesse observed while spending time with Carolyn in different facilities was the lack of personal care they received from doctors, nurses, and nursing aides. This amendment touches on that issue, discussing set requirements for hours of direct care per day. Skilled nursing facilities and inpatient rehabilitation centers would be required to provide an average of at least 4.8 hours of direct care per day to each patient- regardless of the severity of their condition.
Patient Advocacy Requirements
Patient advocacy was also touched on in Carolyn’s Law, mandating that all patients have an advocate to address any pressing needs and issues they have while in a care facility. Although Jesse was a very involved husband and patient advocate for his wife, he didn’t always know what to do and interacted with many other patients whose families felt the same way.
Penalties for Refusal
The issues of understaffing and mistreatment in nursing homes and assisted living facilities is not an issue that deserves to be taken lightly, Jesse believes. That’s why the penalties for refusing to follow these proposed rules are no joke. Refusing to administer these rules, according to the proposal, could result in civil and/or criminal penalties including fines, suspension, termination, or referral to local law enforcement.
What’s Next for Carolyn’s Law?
There are still major hurdles for this proposed amendment to get on the statewide ballot. An evaluation by the Attorney General, a certification from the Secretary of State, a vote from the Ohio Ballot Board, and hundreds of thousands of signatures from Ohio voters are required before this proposal moves forward.
The deadline for all proposed amendments is July 2020 in order for it to make the ballot for the November vote. Oftentimes, these proposals are backed by large organizations with plenty of funding. This, however, is not the case for Carolyn’s law- at least not yet. “The point is, it has to be done,” Ruffin said. “And I know there’s a lot of people out here who have a lot of money who will be willing to fight this tooth and nail. Because it’s going to hit pockets.”
Click here to support Carolyn’s Law and to sign the petition.