by Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.
May 24, 2002
'ELDER RAGE' MAY BLAZE PATH TO CAMELOT
SAN DIEGO -- She stood up after my presentation and dissented. A young marketing person from a local chain of nursing homes, she didn't think I had been fair in my portrayal of nursing homes as less-than-desirable places to be.
Introducing herself as a "gerontologist," she proceeded to deny that things were really all that bad in her nursing homes. Listening, you almost got the feeling that her nursing homes, while not exactly Camelot, might just be tolerable alternatives.
My colleague, who'd already taken the floor handled her nicely, defusing her confrontational style by agreeing with her that there were indeed well-meaning people in skilled nursing facilities along with "nicely painted walls," and most of the time, high quality furnishings. Thanking her for her insights, she then proceeded to dismiss her marketing myopia with the astringent of common sense.
With the patience of Job, she explained that though the patient-staff ratios are in the process of being changed here in California (a several year process before the baby legislation actually sprouts teeth) patients in nursing homes are still being cared for by far too few nurse's aides.
How can a person who is responsible for 7-14 people give the holy grail of "quality care," (uttered by marketing types in earnest and reverent tones) when they cannot possibly attend to all their patient's needs in a timely manner?
The gerentologist objected that the government has "massive regulations" in place to prevent such deteriorating situations.
I would have fallen out of my chair in a grand mal seizure had I been given to histrionics. Instead I maintained my Sphinx-like professional reserve behind a face placid and inscrutable, even while imagining what her own rotund, bovine face would look like covered in banana cream.
"Just what sort of quality people would one hope to attract to work with the elderly given the typically low wages that are paid to certified nursing assistants?" my friend asked.
"And just why is it that so many people have a fear of going into a nursing home; a fear so potent that it borders on phobia?" She continued with prosecutorial dig, "Maybe it's simply a case of mass hysteria." She paused and then finished with a rhetorical body slam, "Those seniors, what do they know anyway?"
The seniors in our audience were appreciative, and several nodded their heads vigorously in agreement. I didn't have to defend my position; the next few minutes were filled with stories of what friends and family members had suffered at the hands of nursing home staff. One story included told of a friend who had been sexually assaulted late one night.
The gerontologist shriveled into an uncomfortable silence at the back of the room as our seniors' indignation reached full roar. Did she think they were stupid? That they could be patronized to accept the tedious pablum of corporate clones anxious to pacify aged consumers? These savvy elders weren't about to "eat cake," hers or anyone else's. I actually started feeling sorry for the blonde in the navy blue power suit at the back of the room.
I stood in her defense as the clash in our conference room approached the level of Bastille Day.
"To be fair," I ventured, "I do have to say that some of the finest people I've ever met in my life, I've met in nursing homes." (Usually quiet, self-effacing women of color who seem to me to have had infinite patience and compassion, not to mention the legs and backs of draft horses.)
"And there have been administrators in the past 20 years who've have cared... . At least one or two." (They were both nuns from Colombia, come to think of it.) I can remember only one white male who had half a heart and he was basically a court eunuch for the nasty little Napoleon who ran the joint.
I wasn't doing a very good a job of consoling the beleaguered marketing fraulein, so I gave up. We ended our seminar with recommendations to secure as many options for facing the future as possible with a strong nudge in the direction of planning towards home care and left her to dodge the few seniors who were loaded for bear on their way out.
Elder rage is becoming a force to reckon with. It doesn't need Xanax, or Haldol or anti-psychotics for the most part. It doesn't need, sanitizing, categorizing or patronizing. It needs to be heard and heeded.
My wish is that its power may change the world as we know it - if not into Camelot, into a place where we can all grow old with dignity.
Cindy Hasz is a nurse/writer living in San Diego. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org