The Trouble with Nursing Homes

Here’s a central problem: For years we have built mini-hospitals for our elders to live in. Now we want to get beyond that. So what are we doing? We are trying to build hotels and fine dining establishments for them to live in.

How nice. But…when are we going to build them a home??

I got to take a little vacation trip to NYC last week and spent a night at a lovely Marriott. It had a very comfy bed, with a mattress and pillow that were chosen to be most pleasing to the average person who travels as I do. Same with the sofa, desk chair and bathroom. A nice place to rest my head and get out of the hustle and bustle when the day was over. Would I want to live there? Not on your life.

Same with the food. I love going out to a nice restaurant, as many people know. But every day? Three times a day? One of my favorite lunches is a simple PB & J, made by me with the brands I like to eat. When I’ve been on the road for awhile, I crave a meal that is simple, basic and surrounded by people who mean a lot to me.

So why do we do this? There’s one simple reason, as readers of Emi Kiyota’s blogs can tell you: We don’t ask the elders what they want. We renovate according to architect renderings, contractor advice, and strategic planning by our leaders and consultants, none of whom have ever spent a night in a nursing home, nor thought about what it would be like to spend the rest of our days there.

We also confuse “expertise” with experience. For example, I am not a “handy” person. I can’t hang a doorway, plaster a ceiling or run electrical wiring. I also can’t draw blueprints and I know very little about building and zoning codes. But when we had a house built back in 1995, we sat at the table and directed the whole process. Why? Two reasons: (1) We’re going to live there, not the builders and architects, and (2) it’s our money.

And yet, the elders who live in our homes and pay for the privilege are rarely asked what would make a living environment better for them. We design according to what we think will best suit them, then go home at night to the houses and apartments we chose for ourselves and our families, and leave the elders in a place where they had no input.

Next time you want to do a renovation, give the budget number to a group of elders and ask them how they would spend the money, if it were up to them. You might hear something very different from what you had planned.

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