ACLU takes on nursing homes

Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

As in all cases involving a resident who wasn't accepted at a nursing home, each side has a different take on what happened.

According to the Lincoln Star-Journal, Nebraska resident Courtney Shelor says her father wasn't accepted at six nursing homes because he had HIV. A statement from the ACLU followed this week, via a letter to the homes in question reminding them of state and federal law.

If you missed the basic tenants around the Americans with Disabilities Act (or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973), it's here. Accepting a person with a terminal illness into your nursing home also would hopefully be found within your own moral code.

While it was 68 miles away from his family, Shelor was finally accepted at Golden Living Center in Broken Bow. I suspect that administrator or admissions director was simply doing her job, but let me say publicly: Good for you for making his last days good ones. Shelor writes that this facility “welcomed us with open arms!” While the center had never had anyone with HIV, it was able to make it work, including helping the elder Shelor be approved for Medicaid.

You can read the rest of the younger Shelor's letter here, in which she talks about her father being her hero. He died at the end of July.

To be fair, the nursing homes, while not speaking on the record to the Journal, said the accusations didn't sound correct. One administrator said the home could not meet Shelor's needs, which included dementia. It's entirely possible Shelor wasn't accepted for reasons beyond HIV, such as a lack of space on a memory care unit or because he hadn't yet been approved for Medicaid.

But the story also reminded me of how HIV/AIDS discrimination has faded from public consciousness, and remains a real threat.

I grew up in an era of talking about Ryan White and his case fighting against being expelled from middle school. At the same time, most of us young straight white folks had no idea how badly the federal government was responding. Every time a person yearns for the days of Ronald Reagan, another person rightfully points out that it was 1987 before the president mentioned AIDS. At that point, more than 25,000 people had died.

Of course precautions have to be taken in a healthcare setting to prevent the spread of AIDS, but they are things you'd also use as a basic standard of care. This would include not reusing needles, plus wearing gloves. I'm not denying the fear among healthcare clinicians when they have a needlestick from someone with an infectious disease, but again, it can't be a reason to turn someone away.

A critical care nurse in Oklahoma told me a story recently about a young man who arrived on her unit, dying from AIDS. He hadn't only not told his estranged family he was sick; he hadn't told them he was gay. The nurse convinced him to let her call his mother, who arrived in time to hold her son as he died.

That's compassion, and the type of stories that I like to hear. Even if the truth lies somewhere in the middle between the Nebraska nursing homes and the ACLU, the Shelor family's story reflects what many people already believe about the Midwest and long-term care. Show the public that when a good man has reached the end of his life, he won't be turned away.

Follow Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN.






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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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