Ventura County is Center of Least-Medicating Movement

by Michael Connors, CANHR Advocate

Ventura County might seem like an unlikely base for a statewide movement to end the misuse of psychoactive drugs on nursing home residents, but thanks to a unique mix of tireless long-term care Ombudsman, dedicated and curious care providers, and some world-class experts, all of Ventura County is buzzing with the opportunity to offer cutting-edge dementia care to its residents.

More than 150 caregivers, nurses, social workers, administrators and physicians from local nursing homes and assisted living facilities packed a banquet hall last Thursday to hear Tena Alonzo describe how her nursing home ­– Beatitudes in Phoenix – has eliminated unnecessary use of psychoactive drugs by tailoring the care and the environment to their needs and comfort. Earlier this year, Beatitudes and Ms. Alonzo were the subject of a prominent New York Times article about their use of kindness, rather than drugs, to prevent or address challenging behaviors associated with dementia.

Every nursing home in Ventura County was represented at the day-long seminar, where Ms. Alonzo’s message about creating a culture of comfort was, for the most part, warmly received. The Ventura County Star continued its stellar reporting on this issue with an interesting article on the seminar. Reader reactions to the article demonstrate the public’s growing interest and support for this model of care.

Comfortable residents don’t yell out, hit others, or engage in other problematic behaviors, Ms. Alonzo told the audience, citing 14 years of experience using this approach at Beatitudes.

The philosophy behind comfort care is thoughtfully explained in a 21-page free booklet published by the Greater Illinois Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association for families of persons with dementia and long-term care facility staff. It explains that comfort care has six key principles:

  • Staff members anticipate the needs of people with dementia;
  • Staff members know each person so well that basic needs never become major problems;
  • Staff members embrace the philosophy of “person-directed care” that involves a style of care suited to the needs of each person rather than the routines of the facility;
  • Staff members use a “soft approach,” by adapting their pace to suit the needs of people with dementia whose memories, language and thinking abilities have diminished;
  • Staff members recognize and treat pain aggressively; and
  • Staff members recognize and treat family members and friends as true partners in care.

Ms. Alonzo reports that staff nurses and caregivers at Beatitudes have so embraced this approach that not one of them has left in over three years.

Last week’s seminar followed a well-received symposium held in Oxnard in March that focused on the dangers associated with misuse of psychoactive drugs and the rights of residents to be free from chemical restraints.

The Ventura County ombudsman program, which planned and hosted the seminar, once again demonstrated its strong leadership and dedication toward ensuring that all long-term care facilities in the county embrace these philosophies and toward ending the misuse of psychoactive drugs to sedate or subdue residents with dementia. Kudos to them on a job well done.

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About achicotel

Anthony Chicotel is a staff attorney for CANHR. His areas of expertise include the rights of long-term care residents, nursing home litigation, health care decision-making, and conservatorships.
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