I’ve spent the bulk of my time over the last (more than I care to tally) years taking care of various generations of my family, which has involved a lot of interfacing with medical, educational, financial, insurance, religious, and other institutions. Since mid-December, I’ve been mired in dealing with issues around Paco’s health and his move from his independent living apartment into the assisted living unit of his senior community via a hospital stay and a stint in the rehab/skilled nursing unit. There has been an avalanche of problems with medical and caregiving issues, as well as the seemingly more mundane issues of changing addresses, getting mail forwarded, etc.
The intensity of it all has reminded me of lessons I once knew about dealing with institutions, but had managed to forget until they were in front of me, again and often. A caveat on the following list: some institutions or, perhaps more precisely, some individuals within the institution do manage to react both competently and compassionately to individuals in difficult circumstances, but this is more the exception than the rule in my experience.
- Institutions are set up to deal with things that fit a certain pattern. If your situation is different in some way, they don’t adjust well – or at all.
- Institutions care more about their rules, dogmas, and self-perpetuation than they do about you. This holds true, sadly, even for medical, caregiving, and religious institutions.
- Institutions are slow to react to changing circumstances. An example: insisting that you have a special form notarized in order to process an address change, even though you are already sending them a durable power of attorney and a death certificate proving that you have legal authority to do so, when, during a pandemic, this adds personal risk to their client and the notary.
- When an employee of the institution makes a mistake, the person can follow those instructions to the letter, but the consequences of the mistake will redound to the person or their loved one. The institution will not make allowances for their employee’s mistake and make things right, even though you were acting in good faith and doing what you were told to do.
- Lots of balls get dropped. You can been assured that thing X will take place tomorrow, only to find out the next week that it hasn’t – and that no one remembers that it was supposed to have taken place.
- It’s very difficult to get accurate information through when it needs to be relayed through multiple people. I can’t tell you how many times the answer to my question has no bearing on the question I actually asked.
- People hear what they want to rather than what you actually say. This is a corollary of point 1.
- Institutions don’t want to accept responsibility for their decisions, policies, and errors. They will blame you or the computer or something other than themselves. In New York State, they often blame Governor Cuomo.
- Institutions are defensive. A neutral re-telling of facts can be taken by an official as an accusation. This is a corollary of point 7.
- Institutions think they know more than you do. Sometimes, this is true. However, it is not true that they can understand someone as well after fifteen minutes of interaction as you do after knowing the person for years/decades.
- Having to do everything at a distance makes it harder. While some things are best handled electronically or in writing, others are easiest to take care of in person. One particularly gut-wrenching aspect of our current situation is that we can’t see Paco in person, so we can’t keep on top of what parts of his care plan aren’t being consistently followed. When I do see him and see that he hasn’t shaved for several days, it’s very disconcerting, knowing that someone is supposed to be helping him with that daily and that he isn’t able to articulate that to me or the staff himself. See points 4,5, 8, and 9.
I wish I could say that my relearned lessons made things easier or less upsetting, but they haven’t. I’m tired and frustrated and dreading the next set of problems/tasks awaiting me this week added to the unresolved things from last week.
Wish me luck.
I need it.