St. Therese seeks change in wake of alleged elder abuse

| August 5, 2015 | 0 Comments

Devastation is what St. Therese President and Chief Executive Officer Barb Rode said she feels after the alleged misconduct that occurred at its New Hope senior care center in late June.

Footage from a hidden camera placed in a resident’s room by family members led to the termination and arrest of two employees for physical abuse, and termination of eight others for cell phone use violations. The Minnesota Department of Health continues to investigate.

Now, Rode said the organization’s priorities include building a team approach between staff and family members, and maintaining a well-educated staff in all areas of its senior care.

Barb Rode, president and CEO of Twin Cities-based St. Therese senior care

Barb Rode

St. Therese serves approximately 750 people each day at its three metro locations and through its home health care.

“We’re going to do our best to be champions of prevention of abuse and neglect,” Rode said. “I think it’s our responsibility to do that. And as [for] the other administration, they feel the same way. We want to make changes.”

While St. Therese reviews its policies and procedures annually, Rode said administration and staff will revisit more frequently critical pieces such as the patient bill of rights, the vulnerable adult policy and remind staff that they are mandatory reporters of suspected abuse and neglect. St. Therese management has heightened its monitoring of caregivers.

“You can never prevent anything behind closed doors. You can do your best at how you hire [staff] and how you educate them,” Rode said, and the question that must be asked is “what can we do to reduce the risks of anything happening?”

Rode said St. Therese conducts criminal background checks on all its employees as required by the State of Minnesota. It also performs mandated fingerprinting and checks references of all applicants.

“Extensive orientation is where we tell them about our background, our history, our faith-based organization and what we expect in providing spiritual care along with high standards of care,” Rode said, adding that while it will take time for people to heal, the organization’s Benedictine values and 45 years of caring for seniors will help prove their commitment.

“Certainly to have this happen is not part of the values we hold,” she said. “In the full scheme of things, I would say this doesn’t happen very often in nursing homes. But that doesn’t negate the importance never to tolerate that.”

Rode said a recent state legislature-approved salary increase for nursing assistants effective Jan. 1, 2016, will help raise the bar in the candidate pool at senior care centers.

Working together

Rode acknowledged people’s right to place hidden cameras in their loved one’s rooms, but said involving administration from the start is the best course of action.

“We really need to be a team. That’s the best scenario of all,” Rode said. “If they exclude the staff in some of the overall decision-making, it makes the care much tougher to do because we don’t have all the information. And the same for the families — it’s tough for the families if they don’t have support from administration. That’s why it’s so important to connect together and discuss things together.”

Jennifer Thurston, St. Therese’s events and public relations director, said family members are invited to the centers to participate in activities so that they can spend time with residents and build relationships with the staff.

“We definitely encourage families to be involved in their loved one’s care,” Thurston said. “We have lots of activities and places for them to visit.” She added that families should visit at different times of the day so they can see if there are any changes in their loved one’s mood.

Rode said if families choose to place a hidden camera in a resident’s room, they should view the footage often and report any misconduct immediately. If a resident has a roommate, the family needs to ask permission before installing a camera.

St. Therese doesn’t place cameras in rooms because of federal HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations.

“We prefer to work with the family if they feel the need for it, to review it together or separately on a timely basis and act accordingly,” Rode said. She hopes families feel confident that staff will take the right avenues for their loved ones.

Upon learning of the incident, Rode said St. Therese administrators acted immediately.

“I feel we did the right things when this came to light,” she said. “We called the police right away. We reported to the health department right away, so I feel really good about that. I’ve learned that our staff is still a very good staff, and they’re just as devastated as we are that this happened.”

Rode said St. Therese continues to work with the state health department and the local police department.

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