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WINTER Wear: An avocet wades in the Bear River to look for a tasty snack. The bird's black-and-white winter plumage heralds the onset of cold weather. / Photo by Mike Sweeney

Today's word on journalism

Friday, November 11, 2005

On journalists during wartime (for Veterans Day):

"[I]n the news media that covered the war both overseas and domestically, journalists also were willing to cooperate and do their
part. The public did not see journalists (and journalists did not see themselves) as being against the team. Journalists were part of the team. Some, such as roving correspondent Ernie Pyle, repeatedly visited combat zones even though they did not have to do so, and they paid with their lives."

--Michael S. Sweeney, press historian, 2001 (from "Secrets of Victory," about censorship during WWII)


Nursing homes should be safe havens, not death traps

By Randah Griffiths

October 19, 2005 | When the day comes to choose a facility for aging parents to reside in, there are many amenities to consider. We all want to make sure our loved ones are in a clean, sterile environment with caring staff members and social programs. But should safety even be a question? Wouldn't you like to think that though they may differ in many ways, all nursing homes must meet certain safety criteria?

Recent nursing home tragedies prove otherwise. During the wake of Hurricane Katrina, 34 senior citizens of St. Rita's Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish of New Orleans were drowned. The owners were charged with 34 counts of negligent homicide. Salvador and Mable Mangano could have called ambulances to transport patients. They even turned down an offer to use a bus to evacuate the facility. What went wrong?

Nursing home fires in 2003 claimed 15 people in Nashville, Tenn. and 16 people in Hartford, Conn. Firefighters believe that if these two facilities had been equipped with sprinkler systems, most of the fatalities could have been prevented.

Only 12 states currently require older nursing homes to update their safety features by installing sprinklers. Most states only set that requirement for new facilities. Yet there are no recorded fire-related fatalities in nursing homes that have sprinkler systems. Congress will not pass laws requiring all nursing homes to be equipped with sprinklers because many would simply go out of business, not being able to afford the cost involved in updating safety features. But can't we offer federal funding or loans to those nursing homes that can't afford sprinkler systems? How many more people have to die in nursing home fires before we will open our eyes to see that it is a problem?

It is estimated by the National Center for Health Statistics that 1.6 million Americans live in nursing homes today. Most of them are feeble, vulnerable citizens. Most cannot save themselves. Sprinklers would help to extinguish flames long enough for these people to be rescued.

Senior citizens ought to be important enough to us that we have their safety at heart. Elderly people deserve a quality of life that makes them feel secure. Would we feel safe and comforted being in a four-story building with several hundred other patients, knowing there were no sprinklers and possibly no fire alarms? Nursing homes can be death traps. Though there are usually emergency plans, the patients are not prepared for what will happen in the event of a catastrophe. It must be sheer panic for those patients who are immobile, knowing that the home is burning down and they just have to sit and wait for someone to come pull them to safety. What a torturous way to die.

Most nursing home residents have lived full lives. They've contributed to society. They've been our teachers, religious leader, our role models. They're our parents, our neighbors, our colleagues and our friends. Doesn't it seem a tragic waste that some have died because of the lack of simple safety equipment?

Someday many of us will end up in nursing homes. That's reality. We'll want to be taken care of. We'll want to know that we're safe. But are we doing everything we can to make sure the elderly members of society are protected? Let's pass the laws necessary to ensure that nursing homes are safe havens. We'll not only be taking care of the elderly now, but we'll also be watching out for ourselves. We shouldn't allow another tragedy to claim the lives of so many helpless victims.


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