Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Program Aims to Empower Nursing Home Residents They Learn to Address Concerns for Lifestyle

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Program Aims to Empower Nursing Home Residents They Learn to Address Concerns for Lifestyle

Article excerpt

It's the first Thursday of the month at ManorCare Health Services-Greentree, a day always welcomed by Becky Napierski, a longtime nursing home resident. It's the morning the Allegheny County Library Association bookmobile arrives with carts of new books, DVDs and other materials.

The wheelchair-bound Ms. Napierski, 65, is an avid reader who has lived in the nursing home since a stroke partially paralyzed her nine years ago. She lobbied for the addition of the bookmobile after graduating from a special program that educates long-term care residents about how to advocate for themselves and other residents.

At her nursing home, it has meant the addition of new DVDs every month so residents in the activity room don't have to watch the same old movies repeatedly. And as the facility's most avid reader, Ms. Napierski is able to get through 20 or so new mysteries or romantic suspense novels - something new from Nora Roberts, if she's lucky - each month.

"It's very important to keep your mind active, so how better can you do that than reading a book?" Ms. Napierski mused. She learned of the bookmobile more than four years ago and "nagged" - her word - both ManorCare-Greentree's administration and the Allegheny County ombudsman program to gain access to it.

It's the kind of outcome sought by the Pennsylvania Empowered Expert Residents program, known commonly as PEERs. Run through counties' local ombudsman programs, in which both paid staff and volunteers help represent long-term care residents, PEERs has trained 2,200 residents statewide on how to try to address concerns with their facilities instead of either remaining quiet or relying on the ombudsmen.

"Because they're living there, they see and understand a lot more about the residents' perspective than we can ever see," said Dennis Govachini, an Allegheny County staff ombudsman who coordinates the PEERs program locally. "The sad thing is, I have to go train people about rights they didn't know they have."

The program is voluntary for facilities as well as residents. Of 62 nursing homes in Allegheny County, six have chosen to participate over the past seven years - four ManorCare facilities plus Seneca Place and West Hills Health and Rehabilitation Center.

About two dozen residents of those facilities - some of them now deceased or no longer active - underwent 10 hours of training about resident rights and how to work with an institution's chain of command to try to address any problems in cooperative manner. County ombudsmen exist to try to work out problems at facilities where residents or their families are unable to work out conflicts with the administration.

"When concerns or ideas can be handled at the facility level, without relying on a third party, that's a win for everybody. …

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