A Lesson Learned By An Ombudsman

One of my first complaint investigation as a Long Term Care Ombudsman came from a man who stated he was being denied dessert by staff at meal times.

When I asked the facility about this they responded that he is diabetic and should not have sweets by order of a physician and request of the family.

The complainant pointed out he was a veteran and stated very clearly that he had earned the right to eat chocolate cake after fighting in the South Pacific during WWII.  He explained to me that he agreed his health was not the best and this was true, but that he understood the consequence and would still like to have dessert.  He added that he needs a wheelchair and can’t see well so he depends on others to help him.  He stated that in all his years he had never shared a room with another person other than his wife and had just moved into a room with a stranger.  He had to sell his home and many of his possessions after his wife died.  He now needed somebody to help him in most aspects of his daily life who were also strangers.  Having dessert was one thing that was familiar and provided some distraction as to how much his life had changed recently.  He asked me what should he live for if he is denied chocolate cake?

This was about his independence and restoring something to his life that gave him pleasure when he felt so much had already been taken.  This was not about a sweet tooth as I first suspected.  This complaint was about the dignity that is provided by allowing people to assume risk and make their own choices.  Even when those choices would not be the choices we would make for ourselves. This was about a man wanting some normalcy and control of his own life when he felt he had none.  This was about how rights are altered for concerns of safety without consideration of harm to a person’s spirit.  I learned there is dignity in allowing risk and that what may seem trivial may have much deeper meaning to another person.

Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by Scott Bartlett Long Term Care Ombudsman with the Area Agency on Aging, Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments.He may be reached at  719-471-7080 x 113  or by email at SBartlett@ppacg.org