Brave Pioneers Create Centers of Growth: Inspiring Stories for National Nursing Home Week: Institution vs. Community

May 16, 2012
Meredith Martin, The Eden Alternative

National Nursing Home Week is a time to celebrate all those that are making a positive difference in the lives of thousands by combating loneliness, helplessness and boredom.

We invite you to add to the story, increasing the depth of possibilities we have yet to reach in honoring Elderhood and enriching our care partnerships.

Written by Jill Vitale-Aussem, Executive Director at Clermont Park

Driving to work this morning, I heard a story on NPR about a family, three generations of women, caught in a very difficult situation.  The grandmother has Alzheimer’s disease.  Her granddaughter, Yolanda, age 43, had quit her job as human resources professional to care for her full time at home.    After two years of caring for her grandmother, Yolanda has lost touch with friends and her own life and burned through all of her savings.  Understandably, Yolanda is growing gravely concerned about getting back into the workplace so she can rebuild her savings and her life.

The story was so touching and so sad.  Yolanda is literally destroying herself and her future to avoid having to “place” her grandmother in a nursing home or assisted living.  I can understand that.  I watch the news and read the paper and have worked in and visited nursing homes where people sit, slumped over, plagued by loneliness, helplessness, and boredom.  I, too, would sacrifice myself to avoid subjecting my mother to a life like this.

What we don’t hear very often is that there are communities and people out there who have realized it doesn’t have to be this way!   People who have opened their eyes, realized that it is completely and totally unacceptable to warehouse elders in an institution and have gone about the task of destroying the institutional model and mindset and creating a new environment that honors elders, returns to them their power, and supports not just the maintenance but the growth of the human spirit.  The Health Suites at Clermont Park started on this journey two years ago, and by opening hearts and minds through education from the Eden Alternative, has transformed itself.  And boy, it feels good.  It feels good to work here and to visit here and to live here.  Can you imagine such a thing?

I was recently talking with a woman who had been in our Health Suites (what is commonly known as a skilled nursing facility or nursing home) for a month of rehabilitation.  She was back visiting our community.  When I asked her what her experience was like, she said that her stay with us was the best month of her life.  Yes, you read that right.  The best month of her life.  Sure, she had to work hard in physical therapy but she was also spoiled by fantastic customer service, dined on wonderful meals, and experienced new things through our life enrichment programs.   Most importantly, however, she  developed deep, rich relationships with the other residents and the people working here.  After leaving, she so missed the people and life at the community that she and her husband have become volunteers.

In this fast-paced era in which we live, where everyone is rushing to get somewhere and spending most of their time with a smart phone in front of their face, texting because they are too busy to make a phone call, being part of a community… a real community where you come to know others and become well known yourself…fills a place in us that we don’t even know has been empty.

The best month of her life.  Spent in a nursing home.  Imagine that.

Learn more about Clermont Park here.


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