How to Deal Proactively with Caregiver Pitfalls

One of the pitfalls of caregiving is unjust accusations

One of the most recent heart-wrenching situations I faced was with my mother—there were so many conflicts within conflicts, twists, turns, ups, and downs. At that same time, peace, hope, strength, and joy showed up at the most unexpected times. Proverbs 18:10 states, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runs into it and is safe.” I kept repeating it many times during that time. Now, I suggest you sit back, buckle up, and hold on tight while I describe this long journey.

My mother, the youngest of three girls, graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in Music, and was an exceptional master elementary reading teacher for 38 years. She and my dad were married for 43 years until his death in 2008. She was chronically ill for several years, battling diabetes, arthritis, kidney disease and other maladies. She became seriously ill in March 2012. I decided to move back home to take care of her (I’m an only child) and I insisted that she get a caregiver.

Her caregiver, a wonderful man, taught me a lot—from fitting diapers properly, to using the Hoyer lift, to reading the hospital machines. We are still close friends to this day. When he came to the house on one occasion (I don’t remember if this was his first time or not), he couldn’t lift her by himself, so he called the local police department and they sent a policeman to assist in lifting her to take care of her personal hygiene. This didn’t happen on a daily basis. She was hospitalized for 3.5 weeks, followed by a four-month stay at a long-term acute-care facility (LTAC), and then she spent two months in rehab. What happened next I would never wish on my worst enemy, but I thank the Lord Jesus Christ for carrying me literally through it, holding me, protecting me, loving me through every facet of the process. I really learned what it meant to trust in Him completely, just to give it all to Him.

On April 19, 2012, Mom called the ambulance to take her to Methodist Hospital, and the dispatcher told her they would take her to that hospital. She wanted to go where her doctors are located, but in our county, the ambulance will only take you to two hospitals (neither of which was the hospital that she wanted to go to). That was never clarified to my mom over the phone, which I never thought was fair.

When the paramedics arrived, they were rude and unprofessional. Two of them didn’t know how to lift my mother from her power lift chair to their stretcher. Her caregiver had to instruct them on the best way to place her on the stretcher. When lifting her onto the stretcher, they made horrible comments about her having bedsores and soiling herself and her clothes. Before they came, we tried to clean her up, but she insisted on being left alone. One of them asked if I had seen the bedsores. I had never seen any bedsores before, and I didn’t know anything about it. He implied that we lied about them, and thought she was being abused. When they placed her on the stretcher, her legs were red (cellulitis), and part of the lady EMT’s watch scratched up against her left leg, leaving a long scrape. Of course, they omitted that part in their report. They transported her to the hospital.

After I arrived in the ER room, my mother told me one of the ladies said that my mother had been abused, but my mom emphatically told the lady she wasn’t abused. Later, four women dressed in red and black uniforms kept asking me intrusive questions about myself and my mother, but they wouldn’t tell me who they were, or who they represented in the hospital, and what was wrong with my mother. Later, I discovered they were with the wound care center, and they were treating my mother’s bedsores as burns. Her primary care physician finally arrived to check on her, and she told him about me. After he examined her, I heard one of the women behind the curtain say, “Did you see the daughter, she’s fidgety and nervous?” After three hours, they formally admitted and stabilized her, and I left the hospital. When I arrived home, a caseworker from Adult Protective Services (APS) had left a message for me to call about my mother.

I immediately fell on my bed and cried out to the Lord. My friend and I began to pray fervently about this situation, and her husband (an OB/GYN and attorney) advised me to go to the APS office in person, make a statement, and fully cooperate with them. I called the caseworker and gave her my prepared statement, but the conversation didn’t bode well.

I thank Jesus for delivering me and providing divine intervention. Isaiah 41:9-10 says, “I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, “You are my servant”; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I would repeat that and read it aloud sometimes several times a day. You cannot look at the circumstances, and listen to what people are saying or doing, especially if it goes against the Holy Spirit. He knows the truth, and He will vindicate you in His time; Jesus never leaves us, whether we find ourselves standing on the mountaintop or perched below in the deep confines of the valley.

The APS caseworker called my mom’s caregiver, and it turned out that they both graduated from the same high school, and knew each other very well. He explained everything that transpired on that day, the dosages and side effects of all 10 medications my mom took, and explained that the policeman who assisted him in moving her from her power lift chair did not observe any bruises or wounds on her. In addition, my mom had a urinary tract infection, was delusional when she was talking to us, insisted we not clean her up, and told him her sister was there helping her at home. She told him my aunt was in the house helping her get ready for her doctor’s appointment, and was outside raking the leaves in the yard. I told her caregiver that was virtually impossible because my aunt was in an Alzheimer’s special care unit facility.

The caregiver has an excellent reputation in the community, and the caseworker completely believed Mom was in the best of hands. My mom adored her caregiver. In addition, he also explained how the EMTs handled placing her on the gurney, and that one of the EMTs had scratched my mom’s leg with her watch. Then, the caseworker told us the hospital thought my mom had been whipped, animals were scratching her, and she was being burned. They were going to press charges against us both. I knew none of these things were even remotely possible; she wasn’t a dog person and didn’t like animals in the house. The caseworker came out to the house, looked around, and saw there were no whips or animals.

She talked to my mom at the hospital, and she emphatically told the caseworker she wasn’t abused, and they didn’t have any business contacting APS. The caseworker has to follow protocol. The next day the caseworker contacted her supervisor and informed him there was absolutely no evidence to substantiate the hospital’s claim of abuse. Her supervisor signed off on the paperwork, and the hospital immediately dropped their claim. GLORY TO GOD! THANK YOU JESUS!!!!

At times, this caregiving journey is an extremely difficult and frustrating one, you are never alone, and God is with you every step of the way. He loved me through all the pain, turbulence, and gave me beauty for ashes; he’ll do the same for you. Isaiah 61:3 says, “To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.” Jesus is indeed at the center of it all!
Here are some practical, proactive tips for avoiding caregiver pitfalls when you care for a familing member in your home:

1. Stay close to Jesus. Find Bible verses and cling to those portraying Him as your Anchor. Pray every day.
2. Document things in writing. Write down names of those who visit, those who provide care (and what service they provide). Keep an easy-to-fill chart on a clipboard that has a column for the date, time, name, service, and contact information of everyone who comes into the room.
3. If someone accuses you of abuse, make sure you know exactly what the allegations are, what entity is making them, who is making them and their job title, what specific action or attitude do they consider a “red flag.” Request all medical records from every facility.
4. Take care of yourself. Practice self-care, which includes eating three healthy meals, sleeping regularly, taking care of personal hygiene daily, and talking to someone who can be an advocate and a soft place to fall.
5. Seek legal counsel to discuss your options.
Laura Jackson, an educator and school counselor in public education and case manager in the non-profit sector, writes from Prairie View, TX. She loves finding humor and positive ways to approach issues in the counseling world. If it isn’t relevant, inspiring, or funny, then people will change the channel. She has a special interest in encouraging and helping others to succeed. She understands the pitfalls and problems with caregiving through her experiences taking care of her mother and aunt. Currently, she is a second year doctoral student in Christian Counseling and Psychology at Louisiana Baptist University and working toward LPC licensure. Contact her at laura5713@sbcglobal.net.

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Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • Laura, my heart goes out to you, and your writing about your experiences will surely save someone else from falling into the same horrible situation. When my mother was living with us and her condition was steadily deteriorating, I could see that we were rapidly getting over our heads, and she would not allow anyone else to be involved in her care . . . I wondered if my imagination was working overtime when I imagined us being accused of elder abuse. Apparently, not. Again, thanks for your cautionary words.
    Michele Morin recently posted…Words MatterMy Profile

  • Laura, first I am so sorry for what you had to go through in taking care of your mom. But, may God bless you for using your experience to help others who may fall into this situation. May God bring His strength & comfort to you. Blessings!
    Joanne Viola recently posted…They Followed the StarMy Profile

  • Oh my – that would be so hard. I’ve been surprised at how many people even in assisted living facilities did not know how to properly move my mother-in-law. My husband would gently ask if we could show them how her physical therapist showed us to move her – some were receptive, some were not (oddly, the worst ones insisted they had been trained and knew what they were doing).

    We’ve also run into some snags with policies in place to protect elders from abuse – it’s good to have such policies, but they can hamstring those who are legitimately trying to care for them. We haven’t faced anything serious – mostly from the financial side of things, even though my husband had both legal and medical power of attorney for his mom. It was mainly things like one person insisting he wanted to talk over the phone to my husband’s mom rather than my husband. She was in assisted living at the time and hard of hearing and confused and nervous about having to talk to the guy on the phone. My husbandpout the guy on speaker, and when she didn’t understand the caller, he tried to explain what he was saying when the caller yelled, “Don’t you tell her what to say!” Sigh.

    I am so glad God brought you and your mom safely out of such a horrible situation.
    Barbara H. recently posted…Our 36th Anniversary!My Profile

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  • Dear Laura,

    While I have not been in your situation, I watched my mom go through some of the same issues with my grandmother. I have also found it easy to feel defensive when our daughter would have a seizure and was not able to answer for herself, it always felt like I was having to answer questions that were being weighted. It is an encouragement to see how the Lord works on our behalf when we trust Him.

    Thank you for sharing your faith and encouraging us to trust.
    Blessings,
    Dawn
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