We’ve progressed a long way from some of the old nursing home stereotypes that have been around since before I began working in and with nursing homes almost 30 years ago.
After graduating from college, I got a job in social work in a nursing home. Before that, I had never been in one. At that time, most nursing homes had a rigidly structured and institutional feel. They were regulated by strict rules and run by directors of nursing who ran tight ships with little flexibility. Patients, as they were called back then, were admitted and told what their schedules would be. The monthly activity calendar usually didn’t change much, and the food choices weren’t great.
Nowadays, we have moved away from using the word “patient,” which implies sickness. We serve “residents,” and strive to cater their schedules to their choices and preferences. We try to meet or exceed the quality of life residents enjoy in their own homes. They are encouraged to help plan their daily routine and community monthly activity calendars. Residents are given meal choices and they can decide how closely they wish to follow their recommended diets. We still have strict regulations, but the regulations are written to honor resident choice and decision-making.
Within the Good Samaritan Society, we refer to nursing homes as rehabilitation and skilled care centers to emphasize the fact that, often, they are places where folks go to recover after an injury, illness or surgery before returning home.
If you haven’t been to a nursing home in a while, or have never been, I encourage you to visit or volunteer at one. Experiencing the life and culture of a healthy nursing home community might help give you a better understanding of how they meet the needs of seniors in your area. And if you have a lot of those old stereotypes in mind, it might help re-form them.
I’m guessing that if you know the difference you can make in someone’s life by volunteering, you probably already are a volunteer. If not, see what you can do by spending even an hour a week with a resident. There are many things that you can do that are relaxing and enjoyable. What we learn by visiting with residents is invaluable, and they feel valued when they can share their wisdom and knowledge with others.
Here are a few examples of volunteer activities you can do with and for residents:
The work within a healthy nursing home takes a village, a community of local staff and volunteers. Thank you for considering how you can help us continue to make nursing homes places where people are loved, valued and at peace.
By Mary Jo Ball, MSW
Manager, Resident Services