The nursing home in your neighborhood is, of course, a business. It is concerned with making money (even if the primary source of that money is from government) and it can only stay in business if it “earns” more than it spends in staff, building maintenance, equipment, supplies, and promotion. However, every senior care business deals uniquely with morality for, besides the issue of profit, it is supposed to provide critical services to many of the most fragile souls in our population.
And may we never grow callous to the fact that the aged, infirm, and severely injured in the human family require not only a lot of help, they also deserve help that is marked by generosity, kindness, respect, and efficiency. Indeed, they deserve much more from the care facility business (and from all of us too) than they usually get.
Nursing home residents deal with a variety of traumatic problems: pain, fear, disorientation, an infuriating loss of mobility, boredom, frustration, loneliness, depression, a humbling dependence on others, confusion, and a loss of self-esteem that can be as debilitating as any physical burden. And most nursing home residents suffer several of these terribly difficult challenges all at once.
Are these businesses doing well financially? Certainly so. And more are built every month. However, plainly stated, many of the nursing homes and other senior care businesses are not serving seniors well. The care facilities are woefully understaffed and ill equipped. The employees there (even when they genuinely care) are undertrained and way underpaid. How terribly common is it then that they are overwhelmed by the needs of the hurting people in their care? Even with their best efforts, they cannot give quality care to the persons who so desperately need it. And thus the extremely high “burnout” and turnover rates.
So, is the lack of quality, sensitive care to be blamed on the facility staff? No. The responsibility goes to owners and managers and, in some cases, even shareholders. The foundational fault comes from the top where company profits are more desired than providing quality care. And until senior care businesses are held accountable for the vast differences between what they promise in their brochures and the actual services they provide, the tragedy of the elderly and infirm going without the best of care will continue to worsen.
This will remain the case in the nursing home business until the culture as a whole rediscovers a sincere respect for the sanctity of life. For only a spiritual ethic that values every person as created in the image of God (no matter their age, abilities, status, size, color or creed, physical or mental health) and is therefore of inestimable value and deserving of our most attentive, compassionate, and skilled care will create a culture that is truly humane. Mere sentiment is not enough; what is needed is action of the most committed and consistent kind.
Sadly, the Church has played an ignoble part in this deterioration of a respect for life. Modern Christians do not honor our parents and grandparents as we should. We have let our insistence on material things, leisure, entertainment, and other freedoms from “the ties that bind” contribute to the breakdown of extended family. We have also let these things determine our priorities in lifestyle, in career choices, in where we spend our money and time. Nothing is left over to invest in caring for the most needy among us.
Why did the Church abandon its historic stewardship of hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, adoption agencies, and homes for unwed mothers to the government and government-dependent businesses? It’s a sad legacy. And why aren’t Christians in the West producing more nurses, more medical technicians, and other persons willing to take on the challenge of the caring professions? Why in our homes, churches, and Christian schools do we fail to extol the noble professions of caregivers, thus encouraging the generation to come to embrace these vocations as important ways to love God, to serve one’s neighbor, and to shine as winsome lights of the gospel in the darkened world around us? After all, the holy Scriptures teach compassion and mercy and sacrifice for others as primary virtues. The Lord Jesus demonstrated over and again the beauty of caring for others (in both their physical and spiritual needs) and He commands us to fully identify with His mission. We are also specifically told that the zenith of authentic Christianity is to make the service of widows and orphans a priority of our ministry.
Why does the Church not consider supplementing the meager salaries of caregivers in the senior care facilities so that more Christians could afford to work there? Why do we believe it so important that each of the innumerable churches in a city erect its own expensive building (the space of which is largely wasted during the week) and thus ignore the enormous opportunity to serve the sick, the aged, and the unintentional poor and needy around us? Why do we believe it so necessary that each of the innumerable churches in a city provide salaries and benefits to preachers, assistants of various sorts, and then assistants to the assistants, all the while letting the needs of the widows and orphans in our midst go unmet?
At the very least, why aren’t more of the ministers and laypersons in our churches involved in “mercy ministries” in our town’s nursing homes, hospitals, and with the homebound – ministries like worship services, Bible studies, taking prayers and communion to patients, personal visitation, entertainment, “adopt-a-grandparent” programs, volunteer assistance, and so on?
My remarks on this topic are not made lightly. Indeed, they come from my wife’s and my own intensive work with seniors: caring for our aged parents, our creation of the popular “When Swing Was King” outreach which has served 8-12 senior facilities every month for 13 years, and to four decades of various other programs of Vital Signs Ministries performed in senior care facilities. And my purpose in writing (yet again) about these matters is 1) because things are not getting better and 2) because I sincerely believe that the Church (even individual believers) could make an enormous difference in the lives of seniors if there is a humble willingness to change our attitudes and ministry strategies, engage in fervent prayers relevant to the need, and begin taking bold steps towards helping those who so desperately need our help.
You say that we can’t change the culture’s attitudes, institutions, and moral atrophy overnight? Of course not. We may not, despite our best efforts, change the general culture at all. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying. And it most definitely shouldn’t stop us from taking what action we can right now to help improve the lives of seniors in our immediate area. C’mon; let’s get started.