Sunday, January 2, 2011

Visiting the nursing home

I walk in with MiniMan, past plastic-coated couches, fake flowers and a large faded fish tank housing one lonely fish. MiniMan runs down the hall immune to the poor d├ęcor, eager to push the elevator button. He gives it a push as I wonder what kind of bacteria live on that button, and we walk inside the dingy elevator with its flickering fluorescent lights and chipping pale green paint.

The doors reluctantly open. The scent of urine permeates the stale air. MiniMan grabs my hand as we walk past a middle-aged woman slumped in a wheelchair and a tiny grey-haired woman holding a baby doll, her arms outstretched to us. I find my husband down the hall standing in front of what looks like a giant filing cabinet, unlocking drawers and popping pills out of plastic and foil. My husband works as a nurse at one of the largest nursing homes in the area.

I could never understand why he continued to work there. I always described it to friends and coworkers as “a shit hole,” because that was really my honest impression. In his unit (which houses about 60 patients) staffing ratios are disturbing:

-3 to 4 aides to do daily care, toilet, transport and/or help feed patients
-1 nurse to do the med pass
-1 nurse to do treatments

As someone who has worked in a nursing home as a caregiver, I couldn't even imagine bathing twenty people in an eight-hour shift. Probably the reason I couldn't imagine it was because it doesn't happen. Same with some of the medications. Oh, you're supposed to get eye drops? Definitely don't have any time for that. And this is just when things are going according to plan, not when Mr. Schneider wipes out in the hallway and is lying in a huge puddle of blood. The staff who work there are placed in hopeless situations. No matter how much they want to take care of everyone, it's almost impossible to do.

I sometimes ask my husband why he keeps working there. It doesn't seem like an enjoyable place to work, it doesn't pay especially well, and the staff never have their needs met, even on a basic level (like supplying pens, having a sterilization system for bandage scissors, etc.) My husband's reply is one of the reasons I love him. He tells me that he enjoys being around the residents, and that if someone needs to do this job, it might as well be someone who actually cares. I think he sort of sees it as his contribution to society, and admittedly, it's a noble cause. I still don't know how he does it, though; I don't think I could work there more than a week without ripping my hair out.

Probably one of the most nauseating aspects of being stuck in a nursing home is the bill. I am sure there must be some kind of at least slightly logical breakdown to explain where the money goes, but seriously, how can it cost $7,000/month to be trapped in a small room in a poorly maintained moldy building and receive suboptimal nutritional and medical care? Something seems really, really wrong with this picture. I think it might be cheaper to live on a cruise ship. The customer service is probably a lot better, too.

When there are residents literally dying of heat stroke during the summer in a poorly ventilated building, it makes me wonder why this local nursing home has no air conditioning, but the local prison has central air, free medical treatment, and probably better lunch. It is so sad and also really angering to see people wiping out their savings in a matter of months or years to live in, well, a shit hole.


  1. We had a geriatrics class this year as part of our 2nd year curriculum, and we were given an elderly patient to follow over the semester. I liked our patient but I hated the nursing home. It was just as you described. Extremely depressing. Your husband is great for working in a nursing home; most of he nurses
    Where my patient was didn't seem to care. His patients are lucky. I'm glad you're feeling better, by the way.

  2. Noble indeed. It takes a special kind of person to work LTC. I sure as hell couldn't do it. Sounds like you've found a keeper. ;)