By Sheila Ferguson

Here in Northeast Ohio, Mr. Jesse J. Ruffin Jr. is a man on a mission. Since 2018, the Cleveland area has been the driving force behind Carolyn’s Law, inspired by his late wife’s decline in several adult care facilities before passing. It is a movement to improve the quality of life and care for thousands of Ohio nursing home and rehabilitation center patients. Carolyn’s Law, also known as the Nursing Facility Patient’s Bill of Rights, will hopefully soon become a constitutional amendment in the state of Ohio.

Recently, the Cleveland Observer caught up with Ruffin, secretary and disability advocate Grace Rice, and medical educator and preceptor Vanessa Brown. They talked candidly about failures in care and key strategies for fixing a broken rehabilitation and long-term healthcare system.

Ruffin and his team of committed Carolyn’s Law volunteers are working to improve the standards of care for all Ohioans living in any one of the state’s 953 nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities. According to U.S. News Today (2021), only 40 of these nursing homes have five out of five-star ratings.

Ruffin’s team of healthcare advocates suggests that it is difficult to find expert care after illness or injury. Human services worker Rhonda Wilson faced this challenge firsthand when she placed her Mom in a rehabilitation facility. Local nurse Margaret Adams says that it is also a serious national problem. A 2020 article titled “Coronavirus in Ohio Nursing Homes: What you need to know” reports that Ohio has 950 skilled nursing facilities and 700 assisted living facilities. These facilities take care of approximately 120,000 people in care facilities inclusive of day-based caregiving, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and hospice. The problem is that there are not enough trained and licensed caregivers for all of these patients. Consequently, 40% of all U.S. residents die in a nursing home and 65% of people who enter care tend to pass away within one year of admission. According to a 2020 report from the Consumer Affairs Long Term Care Association, most patients die from “substandard care.”

Ruffin feels that inattentive care is caused by insufficient staffing. Most importantly it leads to patients’ needs not being addressed promptly. As a result, this can lead to falls, infections, medication errors, and an overall lack of supervision. According to the Merck Manual of Patient Care Guide (2020; 2021):

  • Falls hospitalize 800,000 people annually over the age of sixty-five for falls, broken hips, and other bones. These accidents can lead to death within 12 months of the injury.
  • Infections like urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common among residents as many have in-place catheters. Undetected and untreated infections can spread to the bloodstream causing septic shock and death.
  • Bedsores may also come about when patients are immobile or not being turned for lengthy periods of time. Others may be incontinent and are not changed regularly.
  • Medication errors occur often and can cause severe illness or death.
  • Inadequate staffing can cause patient neglect to high-risk patients.

In Carolyn Ruffin’s case, Ruffin feels that “inattentive and substandard” care caused major health declines and her eventual death.

Committee members Rice and Brown suggest that facilities can also help prevent risks by upgrading their operational policies and procedures and putting new training programs in place.

Carolyn’s Law has the support of the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Board of Nursing. It calls for the continuation of all care facilities to move their nurse-to-patient ratio from an average of 25 patients to 5-8 patients per 12-hour shift. The law also requires staff to address each patient’s critical health needs during the shift (ODH, 2022).

Ruffin and his diehard team of volunteers believe that Ohioans deserve high-quality and compassionate care. On June 30, 2021, they received Attorney General Dave Yost’s certification of their petition with 1,000 signatures. On July 14, 2021, the Ohio Board of Elections approved the petition. Currently, the group is working to complete the formal certification process that requires 450,000 signatures from registered voters throughout Ohio’s 88 counties. “It is a daunting task,” says Ruffin, “but we will get it done!”

Volunteer help is needed here in Northeast Ohio and across the state to obtain the other signatures needed to get Carolyn’s Law on the Ballot. Please contact Carolyn’s Law Office at 216-825-3900 or 216-701-2300 if you would like to help. Your support is needed and highly appreciated!