For too many people to count, all roads lead home—to a nursing home. As a frequent visitor to one particular institution in the Bronx, I am reminded of this harsh reality bite on a regular basis and in living color. It’s not quite Cinema 180, but sights and sounds are all around, including mysterious culinary concoctions, distant wailing, and television sets with the volumes on maximum. Considering the price tag of residing in the place—either temporarily or on a permanent basis—one would hope that both the service and amenities would be worth the hefty price of admission.
My nursing home model costs about $15,000 a month, which includes rehabilitation. I appreciate the fact that one is quite expensive to operate and a heavily regulated nightmare as well. However, if profit is the bottom line, patients are going to get the short end of the stick. With a minimalist staff catering to predominantly elderly and—in many instances—very ill patients, how could it be otherwise?
A couple of days ago, I thought I was witnessing the last gasps of my relation’s roommate. When I first entered the room she was calmly sitting in a wheelchair with a table on wheels in front of her—not uncommon sights in a nursing home milieu. I was pleased when she put her head down on the table—naptime, I surmised, and better than the alternative, which was staring at me from across the room.
The woman was alive and well. Well…not so well...really. I don’t know what her myriad medical issues are, but she painfully grunts and groans as a rule. Apparently, the nursing home powers-that-be took away her emergency pull string because she had a penchant for summoning help morning, noon, and night. The lady may have cried wolf one too many times, but there’s always a first for everything.
Anyway, to get back to this tale of woe: When a nurse making her rounds came in to take the woman’s blood sugar reading—it’s always in the vicinity of three hundred (so much for medical privacy)—and administer meds, she was having quite a time waking up her patient. After several shouts of the woman’s name and assorted shakes, the nurse darted off to her mobile station for a stethoscope, thermometer, and blood-pressure sleeve. Diagnosis: The lady’s heart still beat, her temperature was normal, and blood pressure in the range of the living. So, she didn’t breathe her last in my presence. Still, the poor soul seemed pretty out of it after the scare. I don’t blame the nurse for moving on. She did what she could and had a whole floor of patients in which to tend. But it seemed to me that the place should be better staffed to keep watchful eyes on men and women teetering on the brink between life and death.
While on the subject of bang for your buck, I recently surfed on over to a favorite childhood summer vacation spot of mine. It was Manasquan, New Jersey and I was interested in a certain street named after a certain fish. Once upon a time my family rented a classic railroad-style cottage there and never paid more than two hundred dollars for a week’s stay. What a difference four decades make! Most of the old, inexpensive cottages from the past are two-story homes now. And this transformation began long before Superstorm Sandy did a number on the area in 2012. The going rate for rentals—a couple of blocks from both the ocean and Manasquan Inlet—is $5,500 a week in 2018. I’ll happily take three weeks in Manasquan—the price of a month in a nursing home with its singular room service—and let that be the end of it.
(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)