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Bemidji woman helps push for statewide elder care reform

BEMIDJI—As her daughter's dispute with some staffers at a Bemidji nursing home continues, MaryAnn Papp says she still wants a camera in her room there.

Her daughter, Lisa Papp-Richards, joined a statewide push to reform elder care after state investigators concluded workers at the Bemidji nursing home emotionally abused the 75-year old.

Last winter, Papp-Richards installed a camera in her mom's room at the nursing home, she said, to check in on her and verify that workers were performing the care they claimed they were.

"The stories that my mom was telling me and the stories that they were telling me weren't the exact same," Papp-Richards told the Pioneer.

She and Neilson Place staff went back and forth over the camera: workers unplugged it, she said, so she installed a box around the plug; they removed the camera entirely, so she called the police to get it back.

Ultimately, Papp-Richards complained to the Minnesota Department of Health, which concluded that abuse occurred when nursing home staff, under the direction of administrators, continually questioned Papp about the camera, significantly decreased their interactions with her, and treated her differently.

Administrators at Sanford Bemidji, which owns and operates Neilson Place, told the Pioneer last spring that the state asked them to come up with a "corrective plan of action" and that they, in turn, changed Neilson Place's policies to make it clear that video cameras cannot record where staff treat patients there. They declined to provide a copy of that policy.

"The balance between technology and its ability to be secure, along with the assurance of privacy, is an ongoing national concern. While national and state legislatures debate how the standard of care should interact with new technology, we need to have rules and policies to ensure that our facilities are safe and provide security for those we have the privilege to serve," Adam Coe, Neilson Place's director of senior services, said in a statement on Friday. "For this purpose, we do not allow the use of photographic, video, and/or audio monitoring in locations where employee(s) provide and resident(s) receive personal care, such as grooming, dressing, toileting, etc."

At the Legislature

In the capitol in St. Paul last week, Papp-Richards spoke at a hearing of the Minnesota Senate's Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care Policy, where a succession of people outlined their grievances against elder care facilities across the state.

"I want that camera back in my mom's room," Papp-Richards said.

Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point State law doesn't specifically prohibit or allow nursing home residents to put cameras in their rooms. Specifically allowing them is one reform Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary's Point, said she hopes to enact this spring.

"Ninety-nine point nine percent of our caregivers are amazing people and do the best they can do," said Housley, who chairs the aging and long-term care committee and announced her candidacy for U.S. Senate in January. "We're human beings and we're going to make mistakes, but there are a few bad actors out there that get the front page of the newspaper and the highlight on the 6 p.m. news. And it's the state's responsibility to weed those out."

Housley and Papp-Richards paid a surprise visit to Neilson Place last month. There, Papp and her daughter alleged to Housley the failings they say they've found at the nursing home: ignored care instructions, long waits for treatment, long hours for staff, malfunctioning equipment, inadequately trained staff and more. Administrators at Sanford, which operates six skilled nursing facilities, did not specify what type of training Neilson Place staff need before they can work there, nor did they say if any procedural changes have been made there in the past two years.

"Do you want a camera in your room?" Housley asked Papp after nursing home workers hoisted her from her bed to her wheelchair.

"Yes, I do," Papp said.

So why not move? Papp-Richards said her mom generally likes living at Neilson Place and that there are many good caregivers there. And moving an elderly person can be tough on their health, she claimed.

"Why is it that we move our family members? Why not fix the problem?" Papp-Richards asked. "Where do you take residents? If you could show me a place in Minnesota that does not have anything against them...I want to see it for myself."

Minnesota leaders aim to overhaul the state's system for protecting seniors and vulnerable adults in long-term care facilities overseen by the state.

Housley's senate committee heard from a pair of caregiver organizations this week. Later this month, the legislative auditor is expected to detail the findings of its investigation into the state Health Department's Office of Health Facility Complaints, which is responsible for investigating allegations of abuse.

Lawmakers learned last year that few complaints of maltreatment were investigated by the office where a hostile work environment and culture of bullying reigned. Complaints against two of the agency's leaders are being investigated and the Department of Human Services has been called in to help with a now-diminishing backlog of complaints. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Thursday that all 2,321 cases that had piled up in the state's Office of Health Facilities Complaints had been reviewed, and that officials decided to further investigate 89 of them.

A task force convened last year by Gov. Mark Dayton recently recommended sweeping reforms and new laws to protect seniors and vulnerable adults.

"It's apparent we do have a failing state system here," Housley said at last week's hearing.

Forum News Service's Don Davis and The St. Paul Pioneer Press' Christopher Magan contributed to this report.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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