Top Considerations When Caring for A Vulnerable Patient


The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members. This sentiment has been expressed over and over again and in many different ways, but the message is still the same. When people are sick and medically compromised they transform into the weakest members of society. They experience a sense of vulnerability when the realization occurs that they are at the mercy of others.

Vulnerability is defined as being susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm. A person not able to advocate on their own behalf requires someone to act for them. Physical dependence to meet basic needs creates another vulnerable situation. We never expect to lose our ability to be self-determined when entering the hospital. But in some cases we are forced to trust our lives to the care of others because of circumstances beyond our control.

Making Decisions for Someone Else

It can be very overwhelming to be responsible for a vulnerable person. Feelings of doubt and worry creep in when making decisions on behalf of someone else. We second guess ourselves and wonder if we did the right thing. There are several different techniques that can be used when making decisions for someone else. The first is called Substitute Judgement and the second is Best Interest. These two methods provide a system of checks and balances when protecting someone else’s well-being. They will provide assurance that the best possible judgment is used under the circumstance.

Substitute Judgement

Substitute judgement is making future decisions based on past choices. The goal is to make decisions based on that person’s previously expressed wants, needs and preferences. Remember even when a person is vulnerable and at the mercy of others they still have the right to self-determination. When responsible for a vulnerable person keep in mind how that person would have conducted their affairs when they were well and able. Use their past decisions as an indication on how to proceed when making choices on their behalf.

Best Interest

When caring for a vulnerable person preferences may not be known. Acting in their best interest is the only ethical choice. All options should be weighed and a decision made based on what is best for the person. The person’s religious beliefs and value system must always be considered when making decisions. This method could be flawed as there is always a risk of making choices that are in opposition to their belief system.

Things to Consider

  • It is good to have a sounding board in your corner. Use one trusted family member or friend to double check your choices.
  • While the entire family may be invested in the care of the vulnerable person, choosing one point-person to communicate with medical professionals is best. If possible this family member will have some health care or insurance knowledge.
  • It is always good to reach an agreement between family members when caring for a vulnerable person. If the family cannot reach an agreement realize you are not alone. Professional mediators are available to help navigate through tough situations.

Making sure vulnerable people are safe, and all of their basic needs are met is the main priority. Advocating for their rights and dignity is next. As a family member or a professional caregiver the most important aspect of care in this case is communication. Learning what is important to a person while they are able to express themselves will help to make decisions on their behalf when they are unable.

Long Term Acute Care Hospitals were created to serve a once underserved segment of the patient population. This option allows patients that meet the criteria an extended period of time to recover to their highest functional level. LTACHs provide comparable levels of care to traditional hospitals. Specialty Hospital of Central Jersey delivers care with a team approach so the patient’s goals are achieved longer course of time. Contact us at Specialty Hospital of Central Jersey by calling 732.942.3592. We are conveniently located at 600 River Avenue in Lakewood, New Jersey.

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