Bullying puts an emotional drain, not just on the target of such cruelty, but on those that witness such behavior and feel the pain in its presence. The casual onlooker is ill-equipped to intervene. The observer feels uncomfortable yet feels powerless to act. They see the bullying and remain silent. After all, it’s not their responsibility.
I am a witness to bullying every day, and it disheartens me. As I inevitably lose more and more of my understanding, will I become a victim of bullying—when my cognition weakens will I fall prey to taunts and ridicule from those residents around me? It’s a harsh reality on which to ponder as one grows older. I would be naive to think that the nursing home would shield me from becoming a victim. The nursing home staff is either not aware of the subtleties of bullying, or they just choose to ignore them.
Those people closest to the victim of bullying are not the best equipped to recognize and intervene…the trained staff of the nursing home. Other residents are complicit in the act of hurtful behavior toward the victim—joining in on the muffled snickers, laughter, and ridicule—not even aware of their actions.
Even those residents with the severest of disabilities will exhibit bullying on the weakest in the crowd to deflect attention away from themselves. To them, it is a show of strength and membership with the dominant group—a show of solidarity and tacit approval from the powerful. They will join in with their peers, mocking and making disparaging remarks. The most likely targets of such mockery are those that display delusional behavior.
The response from me is only a stern look of disapproval at such conduct.
The responsibility for eliminating bullying must fall to the nursing home administration. Emphasis must be placed on training the nursing assistants in identifying the subtleties of bullying. New hire orientation must include training done by in-house leadership to emphasize the importance. The training responsibility cannot be delegated! Those in leadership positions—department heads—must show their concern, and demonstrate that they are serious about bullying. The administration must be required to share the tools available to identify bullying and be proactive in quelling its pervasiveness. All staff members have to be able to recognize and feel comfortable reporting bullying to authorities without fear of reprisal.
Family members must play and active role. They must ask questions regarding the awareness levels of the administration regarding bullying. What kind of training, what frequency and what follow-up is in place? Inquiries must be made at the time of admission as to staff development programs and where the emphasis is being placed. Nursing homes must be able to document a continuing, comprehensive education and awareness regimen for those employees that come in direct contact with the loved one. Is the training spaced throughout the year or concentrated towards the end of the year to fulfill an administrative requirement? Is the nursing home proactive or reactive in their training program that identifies bullying? What role, if any, does the social worker play in the interaction between residents? What role does the activities department play? The staff directly involved in activities should be trained specifically in identifying bullying behavior. Observe the activities. Does one resident continually dominate and control the conversation over other residents? Are weaker residents being ignored or appear to be intimidated during activities or are they encouraged to participate?
All of the questions above will demonstrate whether the nursing home administration is aware of bullying and committed to its control and eventual elimination.