How Safe is Too Safe?

Wednesday, June 01, 2016 3:54 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

June is National Safety Month.  Safety is the driving force behind all of our codes, regulations and standards that we so dearly love.  Don’t worry…this isn’t another blog on regulations! 

A few years ago, I sat in on a Bill Thomas presentation.  In typical “Bill fashion”, he asked a probing question.  How safe is too safe?  Can we be too safe at the expense of life-enriching resident experiences?  We as designers work very hard at eliminating trip hazards, glare and other environmental press that have such a negative impact on seniors.  At another conference workshop, we were discussing noise within a nursing home.  We discussed the noise generated by sit-stand alarms…you know, those devices that alert the care-giving team member when a resident, who is not supposed to get up, tries to get up.  Why do we as providers use those alarms?  To keep the resident safe?  Maybe.  I actually use the “baking cookies” analogy.  Why does one set a timer while baking cookies?  So you can forget about the cookies and do something else until the cookies need your attention.  I think you can see where this is going. 

Many families move their loved ones into our senior living communities for safety reasons...falls, burns and outdoor exposure, just to name a few.  Families are entrusting us to keep their wife, husband, mother or father safe, but are we doing that at the expense of dignity and quality of life?  At the Vetter organization, we are grappling with how “secure” to keep our exterior doors.  We used to focus on not allowing confused residents to “elope”, while making it very user-friendly for our cognitive residents and family members to come and go as they please.  I have been around when one of our residents “left the building” during a cold Nebraska winter and didn’t make it back.  It was a horrible outcome for everyone involved.  Safety is important! 

In today’s more volatile environment, controlling who comes into our buildings is becoming a great risk management issue.  The challenge with limiting the comings and goings of people in our buildings is we detrimentally impact a resident’s independent access to the outdoors.  Now that is a quality of life issue in my mind.  I am thrilled with the innovative technology that is now available for door access and security, but that does come with a price on so many levels.  All of these card readers, keypads and motion detection systems are not home-like…especially for an 85-year old.  Heck…as a 56-year old, I have struggled with just leaving one of our “secure” buildings. 

The reality is, the greatest generation that we serve can’t be out-foxed when it comes to safety.  While in one of our memory support households, I was struggling to input the code on the keypad to unlock the secure door.  One of the “confused” residents, a dignified gentleman with a gleam in his eye, said, “when I want to go outside, I just pull that fire alarm.”    

I would encourage us as SAGE members to find that right balance between safety and resident empowerment.  Maybe our job should be to help residents manage their risk, rather than for us to eliminate risk all together?

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