By Renée Villa, Brothers of Mercy Campus Director of Spiritual Care
At times, the word “Nursing Home” can have a negative connotation, and conjure up thoughts of abandonment or guilt. This negativity can sometimes be supported because of the quality of care (or lack of care) that has happened at certain facilities, as recently evidenced in the news. We are fortunate at Brothers of Mercy to have a Five Star rating, and consider it a privilege to serve our residents.
Living in a nursing home is a different life than the one that was lived before entering. Nursing Home living requires a change in mindset. In the outside world, simple choices are taken for granted. For most of our residents, it is an accomplishment to get dressed and walk to meals. Residents are like warriors as the struggle and then persevere each day with simple tasks. I am reminded of this daily as I witness them persevere toward the dining area with their walkers and angled steps, ready to gather for meal time. An amazing sight to behold!
I believe the painful images associated with nursing home care actually have more to do with a person’s changing health, which then dictates a change in a person’s living circumstances. As one ages one may share the frightening thought that they hope they never have to go in a nursing home. But what do the words in the term “Nursing Home” really mean? Well, “Home” is defined as a place where one lives, a dwelling place, and a domicile. A “Nursing Home” is a place where a person is in need of nursing care round the clock (more care than most could receive if they remained in their previous circumstances). So a nursing home becomes a dwelling place where one can receive the care that is needed at this stage of life. This change in living is difficult to adjust to, particularly because it is forced upon people due to declining health.
But there is a silver lining to the clouds sometimes cast upon these situations. As our residents adapt to their new circumstances, they form their own community. Residents live with others who are like them, who understand their losses and suffering first hand. The residents also share their history and wisdom. They help the staff to grow in compassion and to determine if they have found a career or just a passing job.
Residents and staff form a family. Just like any family, there will be times of unhappiness and disagreement. However, there are also times of comfort and true beauty. The dietary staff always tries to make meals special. Picnics, barbeques and meals for special holidays are planned so that nursing home living is more attractive and feels less institutional. There is “one on one” time with residents. Every day, staff gathers for a “morning huddle” to review the care of each individual resident and adapt to their changing health needs. Adjustments are made as the staff endeavors to encourage the residents to keep trying, regardless of their decreasing abilities. At times this is resisted, and yet the staff too perseveres for the sake of the health of each resident.
One of the advantages of working here for me is the small miracles that I have the privilege of witnessing. This past Christmas Eve, some of the residents were gathered in the rotunda near my office sitting and chatting. One of the residents walked up to the piano there and began playing a simple version of “Silent Night.” Another resident joined her on the piano playing an impromptu accompaniment. At this, the rest of the residents began singing a few of the verses. It sounded lovely, and this vision stopped me in my tracks. I stayed in that moment with joyful tears in my eyes. I’m sure any one of our staff has a “Christmas Eve” story to share. It is important to also keep these sacred moments in mind. They contribute to the broader perspective of “Nursing Home” care. Peace.