Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mercy Mount Shasta to close skilled nursing facility

Last spring one of Siskiyou County’s only operating hospitals announced it would be closing its skilled nursing facilities due to budget cuts. With my own cohort of ailing grandparents, I was taken aback. Where would the center’s 32 patients go? Three years ago, my grandfather suffered a major stroke. He needed skilled nursing to make a good recovery but we were hard pressed to find a facility that would take him. Mercy Mount Shasta was full along with most of the facilities in the nearest metropolitan center, Redding. We did finally settled on a Redding elder center that housed patients three to a room. Grandpa would stay up nights unable to sleep for the noise of the other patients. I cried when I first saw him, once the strength of our family and capable of great big bear hugs, in that cheerless place that smelled like urine and TV dinners. While there was a capacity problem in these facilities two years ago, now there are no skilled nursing centers in Mt. Shasta or Dunsmuir and I can just imaging the Redding facilities squeezing extra beds into their crowed brown wallpapered rooms.

Thinking of rural flight we tend to focus on the youth who leave for financial opportunity. Indeed, nearly all of my high school friends from my home town of Dunsmuir, California no longer live in Siskiyou County. But more and more, I am noticing those who are forced to leave because they are aging and cannot receive the care they need in this rural region. My grandparents, for example, have set up a permanent residence in Redding to have easier access to their doctors and to avoid the treacherous winter snow and ice of the mountains. This year my sister-in-law’s grandmother, found herself in the same center my grandfather had, but unlike him, she will not be leaving. Her family is now unable to provide the physical support she needs. With the closure of the skilled nursing facility in Mount Shasta there are no real options left for the elderly persons in need of full time care, but to leave. Their families can choose to leave with them or make the hour commute to visit them in the valley.

Rural communities often suffer lesser access to services including elder services, which is interesting when contrasted with a 1995 study that indicates that rural areas are disproportionately aging compared to urban areas. The study suggests that states invest in elder care options in these regions. Given the age demographic, this is a good policy approach for improving elder care. If we continue to ignore these areas then elder care facilities in urban centers must continue to grow their capacities to accommodate the rural drift. Moreover, rural residents must move to their elderly, content themselves with losing their elderly to distant centers, or somehow invest in the transportation necessary to make the commute to visit their loved ones. As it stands, both the elderly and the family members suffer from reduced quality of life due to the lack of local services.


Dusty said...

This brings up the intersection of two issues that heavily affect rural communities, elder care and job opportunities. Elder care is considered a low skill minimal training working class job that whose skills can be easily transferred to a previously unskilled population. With the lack of jobs in rural areas and increasing need for rural elder care, an increase in attention given to this intersection could help solve problems at once. Funneling resources for elder care job training into these rural communities could create long term jobs for rural residents and care for the elder rural residents who are losing care. But again, with all this starting with budget cuts...where are those resources going to come from..?

Jon di Cristina said...

Dusty makes a good point. It seems like killing two birds with one stone to funnel elder care resources to communities with the demand both for jobs and the care itself. It's just another example of why providing at least a basic social safety net is a worthy goal of government.

N.P. said...

In some ways this relates to my later post about rural medicine. Most of rural medicine deals with family medicine, and a large percentage deals with elder care, since rural areas in many cases are predominantly populated with older individuals. Perhaps in this case attracting rural doctors and having hospitals with budgets providing such care will prove imperative.