FINDING MY WAY: The Senior Citizen Mental Health Ward


I am writing this column at 10 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.

I have a rather disturbing report.

Unbeknownst to me, the spirit guide sent me into a mental health unit for senior citizens at a local MN hospital. To protect everyone’s identity, even the guilty, I will only use initials to describe what I saw.

First, you may be asking yourselves how I ended up in a mental health ward for adults 55 years and older. I voluntarily went to the hospital complaining of suicidal thoughts and disorganized thinking. I spent eight hours in the behavioral health emergency department waiting for a bed. When the staff came to take me to my bed, I was told nothing about the unit into which I was being introduced. The hospital had full knowledge of my real age. I am 44 years old. I look much younger. When I was being processed into my room I was given the introduction to the : Senior Citizen Mental Health Ward. I was in no shape to ask questions and moved into my room.

The first thing that struck me was the incredibly strong odor of human fecal matter. It was overwhelming. The patients were not cleaned or bathed at all. Many patients were confined to wheel chairs. These patients required assistance in bathing and grooming. This was not done. One patient was reeking of filth and covered with bedsores. His legs were never moisturized to the point where his legs were red and scaly and peeling. During my stay he was NEVER bathed or given moisturization for his skin.

Patients were occasionally crying and yelling for their nurses. When the nurses arrived they were rude and dismissive. A crying elderly woman was told to “snap out of it!” I have been in many mental health wards and have never seen this level of cruelty.

I wasn’t the only 40-something patient in the seniors unit. As a relatively young patient, I was given preferential treatment.

The elders were vibrant in their souls. They had been authors, priests, military service men and women. They were domestic abuse survivors. The sad fact is that some had not been cared for since becoming an elder. They treated me as a friend. They told me their stories. I told them about my life. I felt honored to be at the table with them. We had a coffee club. Even covered in bedsores and disrespected by some nurses and psychiatrists, the elderly patients were full of humor and irony. One woman was 90 and she never stopped telling jokes.

I had the feeling that the elder mental health patients were being warehoused. The ward was a place for them to lose their freedom.

I think I was sent to the senior citizens unit for a reason. To call attention to the scents, the sounds, the rudeness and the neglect. There are nurses and then there are staff. Staff do your laundry and take your blood pressure, oxygen levels and temperature. Every once in a while they may do a one-on-one talk. I told one of the staff that I wanted to move to Spain or Britain. (I am fluent in English and Spanish.) The reason why, I explained, is that they have universal health care and a functioning civilization. She was so rude, racist and ignorant. She explained how universal health care is “bad.” She extolled the virtues of living in a cruel and sadistic nation without universal health care because she would never have to wait two years for a surgery. Evil. 99% of us, I would guess, live on disability, visit food shelves and use public health care. Including me.

The current model of elder mental health inpatient treatment is inadequate. Patients need gentle touch and respectful treatment. Daily showers should be a part of the treatment plan. If not encouraged and given assistance, elder patients with depression will not shower. Furthermore, this neglect leads to infections and lowered moods. Besides patient care, the other thing I noted was how many elders were brought to the unit against their free will. Many told stories of being abused by their adult children. One man, a celebrated author, told how his adult son shoved him to the ground on some ice which caused a severe brain injury. The patient lost his ability to write. After getting his abusive son out of his life, his wife took over. She had him hospitalized against his will. He was every bit as cogent as you or I. Another elderly patient was brought into a commitment by her husband.

Mentally ill people in general are treated poorly. However, the elderly amongst us are treated horribly. Neglected. Mocked. Abused by family members. Disregarded. Yelled at. Soul murder. I had to return home early because I was witnessing so much abuse I could not recover. I am home now.

For how many days, I don’t know.

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