Summit County unites to advocate for the elderly

by Allyson Smith

As people age and need more help managing their health and day-to-day lives, their family members often turn to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. But many families wonder whether their loved ones are in good hands. 

Jeff Wilhite, who represents District 4 on Summit County Council, proposed the creation of a Nursing Home Task Force after Fairlawn Nursing and Rehab Center appeared on a U.S. government list of nursing homes with “a history of serious quality issues.”

“The concern that really got to me was when you read what happened to those folks in that nursing home that closed. Things like being left being unbathed for a month, not having wound dressing changed for days… That’s just inhumane treatment,” Wilhite says.

Now, Wilhite and other members of the Nursing Home Task Force in Summit County are working to ensure that citizens who live in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes and other care facilities are well taken care of and receiving the treatment they need. 

Many nursing homes in Summit County are not facing issues like those on the aforementioned list. However, Wilhite and the task force want to work toward higher standards for all facilities as the need for elder care grows as baby boomers age. 

“Once you get on that [list], there’s a certain level of escalated enforcement that’s enforced on a state level because that comes from Medicare and Medicaid,” says Tonia Buford. Buford is the Director for Summit County Public Health and focuses on food safety for the task force. 

“County Council was really interested in figuring out what we as a community could do to not have facilities like that in our jurisdiction,” says Buford.

“We want to find out what those issues are [as] to why they [people] aren’t getting cared for. The goal of this task force is not to put anyone out of business in that industry. But we want them to understand that if they had… to be a nursing home facility, that is not acceptable,” Wilhite says. 

One of the things that the task force is focusing on is educating the public about their rights when they enter a nursing home or assisted living facility. 

Burford says, “The main thing is, if you have a family member that is in assisted or skilled nursing facilities, you need to find out what your rights are. Make sure you know what your rights are and be proactive in your approach as well, following through in whatever issues you might have, and that you’re an advocate for elderly because they’re one of the most vulnerable parts of our population.”

The task force is also urging members of the community to become involved. Meetings are held once a month. The next one will be held on Feb. 18 at 10 am at the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce offices.

“This is a program that is regulated by the state, but we have a voice as community members who live here and we know what’s best for our citizens,” Buford says. 

“If you have a family member that is in a nursing home or assisted living facility, whether it’s a good or bad story, we need to hear from those folks. Anyone who might be in the field of care professionally we’d like to have attend the meetings… We want factual information, anecdotal information. If we’re going to make decisions that have the ability to be successful, it has to be based on facts and hopefully we can come up with good solutions as a result,” Wilhite says.

During this first meeting, the task force set up committees to focus operations, staffing, legislation and visiting nursing homes in Summit County. In January, the committees gave updates on their progress.

One group found that the five-star rating system at that families can use to compare nursing homes has some important gaps — for instance, it focuses on “skilled nursing facilities,” which doesn’t include “assisted living facilities” or some other categories that include local nursing homes. Another group learned that some facilities lack proper staffing, including STNA and CNA positions. 

In other cases they found staffers were underpaid or improperly trained. Members shared some suggestions about how to find and retain staff that is passionate about nursing and health care. These suggestions included a “peace corps approach” where young people who are interested in these kinds of careers could be properly trained. There was also discussion of creating workforce development initiatives with local high schools and colleges.

Those who want to get involved with the task force can contact Mark Potter, Chief of Staff. He can be reached at or by calling (330)-643-2726. 

Allyson’s background is in media production and anthropology. Her hobbies include coffee, traveling, and taking months to read a single book.