Wednesday, July 20, 2011

When you cease to be a person anymore

I’ve worked with the elderly population for many

years. I’ve worked under different titles, worn a different hat, I believe it’s called. I’ve been a home health aide, a certified nursing assistant (that title makes it sound so dignified) and, most recently, I have worked as a Social Services Director in a nursing home. Both nursing homes and home health agencies are a billion dollar industry and I’ve seen what money can buy for the owners in this industry. The money buys the owners a mansion with a pool, a fancy car (a new one each year, in fact), a nice membership to a nice country club and the money pads a nice fat bank account for them.

If you are elderly and in need of the services offered by home health or a nursing home, you too, get to spend big money. The difference in all of this is that your big money, spent, does not buy you much in the way of luxury.
You will get to spend around $1,800 a week, in a nursing home, for room and board and another $1,000 or more, each month for any medications you might need, and nursing homes make sure you darn well need medications, and lots of them. Your money buys you, or to be more exact, rents you a small section of a small room, if you’re fortunate you get the window side, and you get to share this small side of a small room with a complete stranger.
You will also, in a traditional nursing home, get lots and lots of rules. This is because most nursing homes have been designed and set up, for the benefit of the staff members, not the residents, who simply get to pay for all of this.
I recently read an excerpt from a book about nursing homes that compared nursing home care to the fast food industry. I beg to differ with that analogy because for $1,800 per week, I could buy a franchise. In fast food I at least get food I like and good service, usually, in return for my money. I will, however, admit that just like the fast food product, the product I will pay for in a nursing home, is just as bad for me.
In this billion dollar industry, as a home health aid, I was paid what the instructor of the course liked to refer to as ‘good money.’ She was referring to the $6.50 an hour we aids would be paid. For that $6.50 an hour we got a whopping 30 hours of work a week and also got to drive miles and miles to each client’s home, paying for gas from our big paychecks. I have no idea on what planet $6.50 would be constituted as ‘good money’ but certainly not this planet.
As a nursing assistant in a nursing home, I was paid $8.50 an hour, which is also not very good pay. So of the several million owners and corporations make, the workers are not paid well and the residents absolutely do not get what they pay for. But keeping people alive is the name of the game. Alive for profits in the form of Medicaid and life savings and the problem is, in a human warehouse, the quality of care, for all of the money flowing into those places, is abysmal.
I worked last, in a nursing home in Indiana, but I’ve worked several nursing homes over the years and have also worked in nursing homes in New York State. The traditional, medical model ones are all the same. Just places to park your loved one and not much more for all the money paid there. I know many aids who grumble and rightly so, when given eight people to bathe, feed, clothe and wheel to dining rooms and activities, there is never enough time in a day to spend with residents. Therefore, residents become, not people anymore, but objects to be herded around.
I know our society wants to soothe itself with the idea that nursing homes are nice places, but unless a nursing home is a Culture Change nursing home, and very few are, they cannot be labeled as nice places to live. This is why, mention nursing home to anyone, and you will get the: “I’d rather be dead than live in one,” comment most of the time. In fact, a large company conducted a survey in 2007 asking the elderly what they feared most about getting older. The results were: The elderly feared living in a nursing home more than they feared death. The majority of the survey takers said they would rather be dead than in a nursing home. I think those survey results pretty much says it all.
So with all that in mind, allow me to take you into the world of nursing homes, places where most of us, especially Americans, fear more than death. Maybe you will be shocked, maybe this will simply confirm what you already knew, but I want you to feel, down to your very soul, what life is like there and maybe, just maybe enough people will care enough to help make changes for the better.

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