How to Mess Up a Complaint – Part 1

When an elderly loved one is living in a long-term care facility and you see something that needs to be corrected, issuing a complaint is often the right thing to do. How can you make sure your complaints are heard? How can you make sure they are resolved? We posed these questions to Linda Anderson, a Certified Elder Law Attorney and the founder of Anderson Elder Law, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Media, Pennsylvania. “People tend to make the same mistakes over and over again,” she said. “Here are three of the most common.”

No Documentation

When you complain to a facility, the first thing they will ask for is proof that the problem exists. This proof requires documentation, yet many family caregivers don’t think to do this.  “When you don't have any documentation, you end up looking like a fool when you discuss the problem with the people who could address the problem,” Linda said. “You need documentation to establish credibility.”

The documentation process starts by taking good notes. Linda gives her clients a notebook to use for that purpose. “We have them write down everything they observe,” Linda explained. “We must hear what you're hearing. You must be able to prove that you asked for help. That includes getting the name of the person you spoke with, the date and time of the conversation, their response, and when they said they would get back to you. If that person doesn't respond when they promised, you follow up. You give them an opportunity to respond, and if they don't, you escalate it to the next level.”

Misguided Expectations

The second mistake Linda sees involves expectations. Some older adults and their family caregivers expect long-term care facilities to be like living in a five-star hotel, with gourmet food at every meal and eager caregivers responding instantly to every need. This is rarely the case.

Another more subtle misguided expectation involves believing that an older adult’s condition should progress in a preconceived way. “One of my clients, an older man, was being considered for hospice,” Linda recalled. “The client’s daughter was very disturbed by this news. In fact, she was quite upset with us. She demanded to know what we had done to cause such a rapid decline in his health. She didn’t want to accept that these things happen, and it’s not because somebody made a mistake. Some things are beyond the sphere of anyone's influence.”

Choosing the Wrong Family Spokesperson

Linda says it’s important to choose the right person to voice complaints to facility staff. “Some people believe that the family bully is the best choice for the role,” she noted. “This almost always backfires.”

A related mistake involves having too many spokespersons. If more than one person is taking complaints to various staff members, triangulation can be a problem. “If you have three siblings, you’re better off choosing one to be the point person so you're not overwhelming the staff,” Linda advised. “One person will get all the feedback, gather all the documentation, and reach out to the facility. All the communication from the facility will be directed to the one person. If the facility doesn’t contact that person, there's a problem. And if that person isn't following up, it might not be the right person.”

The second article in the series addresses three more of the most common mistakes.