Guest Column: Five-member River Bluff committee not addressing real issues

Editor’s note: The following column was submitted by Diane Bergquist, former admissions coordinator at River Bluff Nursing Home, Winnebago County’s 304-bed nursing facility on North Main Street. Bergquist served at River Bluff until June 27, 2005, when she was told not to report back to work. Bergquist said she had submitted her resignation to be effective July 1, 2005.

Residents of River Bluff and members of Winnebago County want to know just what exactly the five-member committee is doing about the abuse and neglect at River Bluff Nursing Home. Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen assigned this committee in mid-July. Here we are at mid-October, and I have yet to see any progress regarding the alleged neglect and abuse. I continue to get calls and/or letters on a weekly basis from residents and family members voicing their concerns. I still (unfortunately) have little positive to tell them about their care at the county-run facility. I am so sorry.

At the request of many residents and family members of River Bluff, I spoke with Judy Barnard (the head of the five-member committee) about allowing me or a community volunteer to be a member of this panel. We tried to explain that the residents will not speak openly to these five strangers because of their fear of repercussions. However, Judy said, “No, because you are confrontational.” She’s right there! We will go to every extreme to see that not even one more senior is neglected, abused or has to die in pain because of the incompetence of the current administration.

We are also disturbed with the scheduling of the committee meetings. The first one was to be held at the Administration Building. A River Bluff staff member called me and said it changed and was going to be held at River Bluff. When I said we would be there, surprise, the meeting was canceled!

The second one was scheduled and held at the time specified.

The third one, Judy asked an administrative person to call and relay a message. She said Judy wanted her to tell me the next meeting was scheduled for Friday, Sept. 23 at 3 p.m. A friend called from River Bluff the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 21 and said the meeting was “today at 3.” Surprise! However, I was able to rearrange my schedule so I could attend.

The fourth meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 5. I called the Administration Building at 9 a.m. to confirm the meeting was still on. It was. We went to the meeting at 2:45 p.m. Surprise! There was a note on the door stating the meeting was canceled.

AND, why are the meetings scheduled for 3 p.m. in the afternoon? Most people work until 4 or 5 p.m., don’t they?

I received a copy of the following letter Oct. 4, 2005, and thought the community should also read it (Editor’s note: the letter is provided here with confirmation of the letter’s author.):

Attn: Phyllis Schwebke

Sept. 24, 2005

Dear Ms. Schwebke:

On September 8, 2005, 6:17 a.m., Ruth B., on C unit, parted this world. I only hope the administration at River Bluff will “Listen” to the families of those remaining and those to come.

As has been documented, there were many instances where you were advised of shortcomings in taking care of Ruth. We were told how measures were being put in place to correct all of this, but “Things” continued to happen always with an “I’m sorry” or “I wasn’t aware.” It is your job to know!

The last hours of her life, we had to ask for pain meds for her even though she was to be on “comfort care.” No one ever approached us to address this situation. At 3:49 a.m., on September 18th, we received a call from nurse Jodi to say Ruth was unresponsive. When Richard and I arrived at her room a few minutes later…There was no one in her room with her or in the hall. We did not know if we were going to find her dead or alive. And it was quite a few minutes before anyone came to her room. Such an uncompassionate nurse I have never dealt with.

At about 5:30 a.m., I went to the desk and asked if they could give her pain meds. What a pitiful situation, and this person possesses the title of “Nurse.” No professionalism, no compassion.

After her passing and the funeral director came for her body, the nurse on duty, Vea, gave him the “wrong” sign-out sheet. He was the one who caught the mistake. How much are we supposed to endure with an “I’m sorry” or “I wasn’t aware”???

An acknowledgment of her life from your office would be a nice show of some somnolence of compassion.

You were advised…you showed a lot of lip service but nothing is really changing. Many of the aides and some nurses there work their tails off and have compassion and professionalism. Thank God for them!


Daughter-in-law of Ruth B. (name withheld upon request)

My opinion, this letter tells us exactly what is being accomplished with the new committee. Absolutely nothing. When the nurse manager learned who the new committee was, she allegedly made the statement, “I know four out of five of the members, this will be a piece of cake.” Unfortunately, this is looking to be a true statement.

We have attended the two meetings called by Judy Barnard. We do not understand why there seems to be no sense of importance or urgency regarding the issues at hand. Asking the administrator to explain “new meal plans” at the last meeting was not relevant for this committee meeting.

We thank Ray Empereur and Phil Johnson (committee members) for asking some key questions. Ray asked Judy Barnard, “Do we have a mission statement, and is this committee limited to a time and scope?” Judy’s answer: “I will address this with the Chairman.” Phil said, “I’m not quite sure where we’re going or what we’re doing.” Neither are we. He also asked: “Will we be able to satisfy those that want something done? We don’t want to be here five years from now, and nothing is being done.” There was no realistic response to Phil’s inquiry.

Admittedly, staffing is a major problem. So fix it.The Director of Nursing and Administrators’ excuses are getting very old. Our opinion, they manage the residents and the staff by intimidation. Manage without intimidation, stop the cover-ups of alleged abuse and neglect, and you may be able to keep caring, loyal and dedicated staff.We do not want to hear any more about the good job the current administrator and the Director of Nursing are doing. Give us a break! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! Our opinion, the current administration has done a LOUSY job running our County home. They will continue to do so until they resign or retire, because it is quite obvious their jobs are being protected! Hundreds in our community would like to know why. They certainly are not worth the salaries they receive.

As for the dedicated, compassionate, and hard-working staff, the County says salaries depend on what the union asks for. The union says the salaries depend on what the County will give them. STOP! The caregivers of the unfortunate citizens that end up at River Bluff Nursing Home deserve a fair wage.

We want compassion and the quality of care to improve at River Bluff Nursing Home. It is so sad and tragic that the quality of care of senior citizens at our County nursing home depends on the politics of the Winnebago County Board.

My constituents and I will only support Winnebago County Board members who strive for improved conditions at River Bluff Nursing Home. We will also campaign to ensure those who do not support, or those who are apathetic about this issue, do not get re-elected.

Diane Bergquist and concerned community members

From the Oct. 19-25, 2005, issue

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