North Coast Journal weeklyEditor & Publisher

No (election) news


Don't expect election results from us this week. Although we don't actually print the Journal until Wednesday morning, our deadline is Tuesday evening -- and we'd all rather be bundled up in front of the fire watching the returns on television or on the web anyway.

Besides, breaking news is not part of our mission statement.

What is very much part of our mission statement is this week's cover story, "Nursing home neglect," a longer look at an important current event.

Sometimes I am asked to give a lecture for a high school or college journalism class. One of the standard questions I am always asked is where we get story ideas. My pat response is, "Anywhere. Everywhere. Some of my best stories come from listening to gossip in the produce section at the supermarket."

This particular story began with an offhand comment made by a friend of mine, who is a nurse. She said I wouldn't believe how much money the nursing homes in Eureka are offering to pay RNs working certain shifts.

"Up to $23 and even $26 an hour," she said.

"Really?" I said. "And why is that?"

The answer she gave -- that the nursing homes were under pressure from state inspectors and they needed to ramp up their staffing levels -- led to a very big assignment for our staff writer, Arno Holschuh, who took several months visiting area nursing homes, talking with staff, plowing through facility reports and searching financial records on the Internet -- in addition to his weekly reporting chores.

It's a difficult story. It's not a happy story. At one point, Arno told me he wasn't sure he liked asking tough questions and getting some hostile answers.

Most people never have an occasion to visit a nursing home. It's always a shock for those of us on the outside to enter one, even the better ones.

In the mid-1970s I worked for the old county hospital where General Hospital is now located. Adjacent to the hospital was the county-operated nursing home which I visited several times a week, delivering paperwork.

At first I avoided those delivery chores. I was uncomfortable being confronted by the woman in the wheelchair who always grabbed my arm and wanted me to pull her around the halls for a little ride. Then there was the 23-year-old man in a permanent coma from a head injury he sustained diving off the rocks in Willow Creek.

Eventually I adjusted my attitude. Those people needed constant care and they were getting it. Although the county nursing home was not without incidents (a bed rail left down, occasional accidents), for the most part it was a good nursing home -- clean, well-lit, with a good staff and numerous activity programs.

I also remember it was losing plenty of money every month.

Eventually the county got out of the nursing home as well as the hospital business, leaving those chores strictly to the for-profit and not-for-profit corporations. That system that continues to this day, for better or worse.


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