Matt C. Abbott
Caring for the elderly and infirm
By Matt C. Abbott
May 7, 2018

From The Washington Post (May 1):
    Pictures of Rebecca Zeni during her younger years showed her with flawless skin, well-defined eyebrows and long, thick lashes. Her hair, parted in the middle, was neatly tied with a bow behind her ear....

    But the once-vibrant woman later found herself living in a nursing home, where she suffered a long, painful death, her family's attorneys said. Parasitic mites had burrowed under her skin, living and laying eggs all over her body. By the time she died, vesicles and thick crusts had formed on her skin. Her right hand had turned nearly black, and Prieto said her fingers were about to fall off.

    The scabies that infected Zeni's body had become so severe that bacteria seeped into her bloodstream. She died in 2015 at age 93.

I asked Julie Grimstad, executive director of Life is Worth Living, Inc., founder and coordinator of St. John's Befrienders (an outreach program to nursing home residents and homebound elderly), and editor of the Pro-Life Healthcare Alliance monthly e-newsletter, to comment on the aforementioned story.

Mrs. Grimstad responded as follows:
    As a patient advocate, I have seen some terrible things happen to elderly and infirm people in healthcare settings. My advice is to never admit a loved one to a nursing home or hospice unless someone who cares can be with them 24/7. (Many nursing homes do not permit this.)

    Instead, keep them home and hire help as needed. I know this is difficult for some families. Every church needs to train a group of volunteers to assist families who need help caring for loved ones. Christians have to take care of the elderly and infirm. Hospitals, nursing homes and hospices, nowadays, do not provide tender loving care.

    At the very least, churches should have a group of people who befriend the elderly in the nursing homes in their area. I started a group at our church and it has been very effective at alleviating the loneliness many nursing home residents experience and our presence does "encourage" the staff to be more attentive.
I also asked Ron Panzer, founder and president of Hospice Patients Alliance, for his input on The Post's story.

Mr. Panzer responded as follows:
    It is not even slightly believable that nurses, aides, or supervisors did not know about the condition of this woman. They chose and intended that she die and that nothing be done to help her when she was suffering one of the most horrific deaths imaginable. In particular, scabies is not experienced as if one feels a few mosquito bites; it is extremely intense as if one is being bitten from within one's own body causing sharp, needle-like pain at multiple sites. Though crusted scabies involves tens of thousands of mites, there would have been a time when pain and itching was severe.

    Not doing anything for this woman endangered every patient and staff within the facility as well as every visitor to the facility and their families, as the condition is extremely contagious. It takes just one mite to infest another person and then can spread like wildfire among family members and others who are contacted. In such a case, to do nothing takes a truly evil intent and indifference to the suffering of others in the present as well as the vast number of people who potentially and likely were also affected. These individuals need to be prosecuted and put in jail.

    However, neglect and abuse of the elderly, disabled, and chronically ill who reside in facilities has long been routine. It is a clear indication of the selfishness and greed of our society that we have done nothing, do nothing, and likely will do nothing about these long-standing problems that officials at every level of government have been aware of for decades.

    Our society treats the vulnerable with less respect than dogs or cats – and every commercial for the Humane Society showing neglected dogs or cats could just as easily show the residents of nursing facilities throughout the land in just as bad or worse conditions.

    The politicians regularly receive money from the owners of these nursing homes (and chains of them), and any official who tries to properly enforce the standards and laws is promptly "set straight" and knows not to touch the facilities except one or two a year to make it appear as if they are enforcing the standards. They are not!

    Understaffing is rampant throughout the industry. Owners skim money saved from understaffing and stick it in their own pockets while creating living hells for the residents and the staff. That it continues decade after decade only demonstrates the evil of our own society.
Thank God for the Little Sisters of the Poor, whose "mission is to offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ, cared for as family and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to Himself.... Our lives are made up of many humble, hidden tasks. We serve the elderly day and night, striving to meet their physical needs, to make them happy and to minister to them spiritually. We accomplish our mission together as a community, each one bringing her gifts and talents to the work of hospitality."

© Matt C. Abbott


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media, and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)


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