Jill Vitale-Aussem Guest Blogs: Surplus Safety
“Nursing Home Denies Elder the Right to Stand Up: Administrator cites safety concerns”
Ok, I just made that up. Let’s all be honest though –this headline could describe what goes on in many nursing homes.
Have you seen the recent headlines about the school in Long Island that banned balls, tag, cartwheels, and basically anything that is fun or enjoyable on the playground because of fears about kids getting hurt?
Time magazine’s website recently posted a story entitled “Long Island School to Students: Stop Playing With Your Balls”. No joke. Real headline (which begs the question…what did the Time magazine editor drink for breakfast that morning?)
Other recent stories include teachers banning kids from quoting the Geico “Hump Day” commercial and the US Postal Service destroying stamps because they portray cartoon characters engaged in unsafe activities – like cannonball dives and headstands without helmets.
These stories have sparked outrage in the media and the public, resulting in colorful commentary about the prerequisite scrapes and bruises that come with fun and growth and questions as to the sanity of the people making these decisions.
But how different are these situations from the bland and stifling environments we create in nursing homes and retirement communities in the name of risk management? Is it really any different than when we slap alarms on resident chairs and beds that shriek whenever the person attempts to stand? Or when we take away an opportunity for elders to garden or cook food because we don’t want to get a tag for improper handling of food during survey?
When we make decisions and write policies based solely on eliminating risk and ignore the potential for good, we create environments of “surplus safety”. If you haven’t explored this topic, I encourage you to do so.
This isn’t something to mess around with but it IS something to examine – with balanced thinking and much thought and focus. Providers of services for Elders are entrusted with providing living environments and services for the most important people in our society . . .people who may also be very frail and vulnerable.
We’ve been talking a lot about surplus safety at Clermont Park. I asked a group of staff and Elders to look at our policies, procedures and handbooks and we have already found plenty of misguided surplus safety examples.
Right now, we are practicing on the benign stuff . . . things that aren’t likely to lead to horrible outcomes or a lawsuit . . . like a rule about birdfeeders not being allowed because they attract rodents…this was a really stupid policy that was written by . . . oh wait, that was me . . .
Everyone has to start somewhere.