One consequence of opening a new living space like our Green Houses is that it lays bare some aspects of institutional care that never occurred to me before. This seems to happen with regularity these days. Here’s a story, and also a challenge.
First the story: A woman stopped by recently to visit her mother. The Shahbaz came to the door and said, “She’s not home right now.” With a big smile and somewhat teary eyes, her daughter asked where she was, and it was explained that she had gone with a staff member to Wegman’s (grocery store) to get supplies for dinner.
Her daughter was moved to tears at the thought that her mother would be out shopping for dinner. Another nursing home paradigm busted.
I spoke today with Rebecca Priest, who guided the opening of our Penfield Green Houses, and after telling me that story, she pushed me even farther. We talked about the number of people who contact us, wishing to tour our Green Houses, and the difficulty of striking a balance between honoring those requests versus honoring the sanctity of the home for those who live there. Rebecca laid bare for me another institutional trapping we don’t think of very often–The Tour. Many homes limit the number and frequency if their tours. But is that enough? How much of our institutional approach lies in The Tour itself??
The Tour brings people in to explore the home, thus creating a procession of strangers who look around the premises, but who are not known to those who live there. How many of us do this in our own houses? Many who tour the homes are nice enough to say “Hello”, or otherwise engage the elders, but this is often secondary to looking at the building; and who are all these strangers, anyway?
Rebecca’s idea is that maybe we should offer a different kind of visit, an “Un-tour”. Maybe we should insist that such guests attend a social gathering at the home, where they are invited to come in, sit down, have coffee, tea or dessert with the elders and staff, and engage first and foremost in meaningful conversation. In doing so, they will not only get inside the house, but more important, they will understand what that house means for those who live and work there. It would decrease the “fishbowl” aspect, take the focus off the building, and put it back into cultivating relationship, dignity, and respect.
I think it’s a good idea. What ideas do other people have?