Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Missing Personal Items: Lost or Stolen?

Photo by Natalie Barletta
Over the last year, I have been making weekly visits to a skilled nursing center to check on one of my friends.  All too often, she tells me that she’s missing a personal item: lipstick, magazines, television remote, eye glasses, clothing, etc. 

Most upsetting was the loss of her new winter coat less than a week after she received it as a Christmas gift.  Most of these items were not marked with the owner's name. 

Because I am not there 24/7, I am not sure how these items go missing.  My friend has cognition problems, so I suspect that some of these items are merely misplaced.  Places I regularly check for items:
  • In the bedding
  • Under the bed, dresser, vanity or nightstand
  • In the pocket of a sweater or coat
  • In a purse that is seldom used
  • On the floor of the closet
  • Within the wheelchair in which she is sitting

Also, some of the other residents also have cognition problems, so they may pick them up innocently.   Also, some of the items never were marked with pen or engraved.  Staff members struggle to direct items to the correct resident if they are not marked.

Most unsettling is the possibility that items have been stolen—either by another resident who knowingly took them, by a visitor, by regular staff, or by one of the many visiting professionals.

People who live in skilled nursing centers have little privacy. Their doors do not lock. They share a room with another resident.  Dozens of people enter their rooms daily.  It’s nearly impossible to keep valuable items secure.   Even wearing a tight-fitting wedding ring is not enough to keep it secure.  One resident’s wedding ring was stolen after the thief lacerated the woman’s finger in order to remove it.

Residents, family members and staff can take some precautions against theft
  • Make and inventory of personal items and update it regularly.
  • Label clothing with a laundry pen or affix name labels
  • Have the resident wear a pouch under his or her clothing
  • Engrave items such as glasses, dentures, electronics
  • Install a "granny cam"
It an item goes missing, and you are confident that the resident did not merely misplace the item, be sure to report the theft to administrators or even file a report with the local police. However, it’s impossible to guarantee the security of personal items.  I am tempted to say, "Just don't keep valuables in the resident's room."

It's not feasible to strip an older adult of every potentially valuable item since even glasses and hearing aids are susceptible to theft.  This is a systemic problem, one larger than my ability to comprehend a manageable solution. 


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