Expose in Illinois Illustrates Issues of Mental Health in Nursing Homes

Nursing homes are typically through of as being caring and comprehensive communities for the elderly and those who have considerable health issues but who do not wish to stay in a hospital. Yet throughout the United States, many nursing homes may be serving a different purpose: that of providing shelter and basic, yet often inadequate, care for those experiencing mental health difficulties.

Though federal law prevents nursing homes from playing host to people with mental health concerns unless they are concurrently diagnosed with a major medical health issue, a recent series of visits to state nursing homes conducted by an investigation team in Illinois has highlighted considerable ambiguity in treatment of the law. Team members noted meeting with several nursing home residents whose non-mental-health concerns ranged from high blood pressure to an already-healed broken wrist.

The investigation has produced the suggestion that a considerable percentage of people living in nursing homes are there only due to their mental health concerns, a troubling fact in light of the services offered at many such homes, which tend not to focus on delivering mental health care. Investigators reported seeing residents packed by the threes and fours to a single room, playing board games or wandering halls without participating in much, if any, therapy.

The report is likely to call greater attention to nationally relevant problems within nursing homes and community mental health programs that fail to provide a more viable alternative for residents. Through creating a more in-depth understanding of how those with mental health concerns differ from clients with solely medical needs, community leaders may be able to help people living in nursing homes receive more appropriate care.

© Copyright 2009 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • M Lartar

    M Lartar

    December 18th, 2009 at 1:23 PM

    This is bound to happen at nursing homes as they are not as well-equipped as hospitals are.Nevertheless,nursing inner do a great job of handling patients who cannot be in hospitals for various reasons and this has to be commended.If someone in a nursing home needs speciality treatment,they can be shifted to the nearest hospital.

  • heath


    December 18th, 2009 at 4:09 PM

    If there is a rule that individuals with mental problems should not be housed in nursing homes,then why are the numerous nursing homes doing so?Are they not afraid of their licensure being cancelled?It is only because they know that the law exists only on paper and is not enforced and this kind of an image of law-enforcement does not bode well for a country like ours!

  • laura


    December 20th, 2009 at 6:04 AM

    My grandmother had to go to a nursing home during the last few years of her life but if I had to do it all over again I would have found a way to have her come home with me. The employees there did the bare minimum of what they needed to do to keep the residents safe but I think that is about it. I never saw anyone doing anything that was not in their job description or going over and beyond the call of duty to keep the patients feeling like they were at home. Granted I know that there were a lot of people there it is just that no one was ever really nice or seemed to enjoy their jobs very much and I just don’t think that those are the sorts of people who should be caregivers to the older residents. These are people who have had to give up their homes to come stay somewhere unfamiliar and a friendly word or gesture could make all of the difference in the world to keep them feeling comfortable but I never experienced that and I am sure that my grandmother did not either. At the time we felt we had no choice, but now I know that we could have made another choice. It would have been hard but we could have done it and probably should have. I feel guilty about that everyday.

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