Assisted living · Caregiver · Caregiving

Good stewards, part 1 / September 11, 2006

I’d like to repeat a comment that was left for me by Patty Doherty, one of the creators of The Unforgettable Fund. Answering just ONE of her questions requires one to be bravely empathetic. And until the most powerful members of our society can acknowledge and deeply empathize with the least powerful members (note Patty’s challenge, at the end of her comment), we can’t continue to call ourselves “God’s country.”


How do we address the care of our elders, before they die but after
they’ve lost their independence?

One things for certain, we’ll all have close personal knowledge at some
point with death. We’ll experience it in as many different ways as
there are people on the planet. But before death comes, many of us will be
cared for in nursing homes as our elders are today. What is that like?
How little we know and how much we need to learn – now! – while we have
the time and the opportunity to get it right! For instance, how many of
us can answer the following questions?

How does it feel to not sleep beside your spouse?

How does it feel to be unable to communicate your needs?

How does it feel to be dressed and undressed by a stranger?

How does it feel to be fed, not when you’re hungry, but when it’s

How does it feel to be fed what you don’t like to eat?

How does it feel to not drink when you’re thirsty?

How does it feel to be really thirsty, offered water through a straw
you don’t remember how to use, and have the water taken away because
you’re “notthirsty”?

How does it feel to need to use the bathroom but have to use a diaper?

How does it feel to wait for a stranger to come in and change your
soiled diaper?

How does it feel when you have to wait for hours?

How does it feel to wait overnight?

How does it feel to holler for help and be ignored?

How does it feel when you can’t bathe yourself but have to wait for
your twice weekly bath by a stranger?

How does it feel to want to hug your child but you can’t move.

How does it feel to cry and be ignored?

How does it feel to be hollered at to believe in Jesus when you’re

How does it feel to be cold and not pull your blanket up but instead
have to wait for someone to notice, in the middle of the night?

How does it feel to be placed in a wheelchair for hours in a room full
of strangers in wheelchairs with no music, no sound other than the CNA
talking on her cell phone?

How does it feel to never go outside in the fresh air and sunshine?

How does it feel to know you won’t get past the front door until you

How does it feel to be talked about as if you weren’t in the room?

How does it feel to know you’re spending down your life’s savings to
pay for this care?

How does it feel to not get your teeth brushed for weeks?

How does it feel to have your skin tear when you’re pulled?

How does it feel to not move and develop bed sores?

How does it feel to not have them heal because you’re only bathed twice
a week?

How does it feel to have them spread?

How does it feel for your children to not see them because they’re on
your bottom, under your diaper, under your clothes?

How does it feel to hear the nursing home won’t install web cams
because they want to protect the privacy of their employees?

How does it feel to be old, incontinent, with Alzheimer’s, in a nursing
home in America?

These are all ordinary, everyday situations that our parents in nursing
homes all over our country face on a daily basis. Don’t believe me? Ask
around – you’ll hear the same heartbreaking stories coming from all
over the United States. Ask your legislators if they know what’s going on.
And if they’re shocked ask them if they would dare do something about


I have an idea but I need 12 brave legislators to take a leave of
absence from their posts for one week. Preferably the ones who have
campaigned as strong advocates for the elderly. And since Florida leads the
country in aging, that would be a great place to “host” this event.

I propose they take up residence on one floor of a hotel, set up to
follow ordinary nursing home procedure. This will be there “pod.”
Theyagree to be diapered, and unable to walk, bathe or feed themselves for one
week. They rely soley on one statistically-average aide – no education
other than CNA certification, unverified background check,
questionable documentation, no experience – to do all of their care. This aide
will make only $8 per hour. There will be one aide only – reflective of
the acceptable staffing ratio in most nursing homes – 1 CNA to provide
ALL the care for 12 residents.

These “residents” must not talk, they must not move, they must not
read, they must not verbally or physically communicate, they must not do
anything but lie there. They can moan, they can cry out, they can grab
the hand of someone walking by, but they can’t articulate their needs, no
matter how dire.

They can’t propel their own wheelchairs, they can’t lift themselves up,
they can’t roll over in bed, they can’t get water when they’re thirsty,
they can’t get aspirin when they have a headache, they can’t use the
phone, they can’t go outside in the sunshine and fresh air, they can’t do
anything for themselves. They can do absolutely nothing.

They have to exist as the patients of nursing homes exist, entirely
dependent upon others for their care.


When the week is over, we’ll have the information we need to address
the nursing home system as it exists today. Maybe it will be great, maybe
it will be awful but either way these 12 elected officials will know
first hand what they’re legislating about, care of the elderly. If
everything is fine, we won’t have to change a thing. If everything needs to
be overhauled, these brave 12 can lead the way for the rest of us who
just don’t know what it is we’re in for.

I believe that experience will change the laws in the state of Florida
within one week. And if this one-week experiment is conducted nation
wide, it will transform the way we care for our elderly.

The men and women who swear to lead us, to govern us, to protect us,
should know first hand that the golden years have turned to lead in our
country. The men and women who campaign tirelessly to attain their
elected office should be willing to give us this one week, just seven days,
to see firsthand how shamefully the nursing home system, as it’s
structuredtoday, is failing our elders.

Without that knowledge, how can they honestly say they know of what
theylegislate? WITH that knowledge, they’ll have the power to pass the
mostsweeping legislation in our history.

Our mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, ARE these elderly people. For once
and for all, 12 legislators can transform this haywire nursing home
industry by participating in this challenge. All they’ll have to do is
nothing. When has it ever been possible to accomplish so much by daring to
do nothing.

Thank you for your consideration.

Patty Doherty

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