Students share their perspectives on the ongoing nursing home debate

By Maggie Fipps

The reputation of nursing homes, if they had a good one to begin with, took a hit after 2020. With 168,579 COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes alone, the pandemic highlighted their staffing deficiencies. In response, Biden’s campaign promised to give adequate staffing and training to nursing home aides and give long-term caretakers better benefits and pay.

In September, the administration took steps to fulfill those promises. The new regulations require three hours of staff care per resident per day and 24-hour care from an RN at each facility. This is calculated by dividing the number of residents by the number of hours worked by each specific type of staff. According to White House aide Stacy Sanders, this would affect over 75% of nursing homes in the United States. 

Advocates on both sides of the debate were not satisfied with the decision. To some, the threshold seemed too low; a temporary bandage to a long-term problem. However, nursing home executives argued they do not even have this bandage in their first-aid kit, because staffing shortages and funding issues seem insurmountable.

Many nursing students at Cedarville work in nursing homes to gain experience in caregiving, and they see firsthand what happens during end-of-life care. 

Sophia Toledo, a senior nursing major, chose to work in a nursing home after caring for her grandmother during her spinal surgery recovery. She believes care for the elderly is not just accomplishing tasks for them, but granting them their dignity. 

“A person who maybe has aches and pains because they’re old can usually still get dressed, they just need some assistance,” Toledo said. “I as a young 20-year-old can get someone dressed really quick. But little things like that really do add up and help to build their dignity because being put into that situation is stripping away a lot of their privacy and a lot of the independence that they’ve been used to their entire life.”

Rachel Kauffmann, a senior nursing major, worked in a nursing home for an internship last summer. She also spoke about autonomy, saying that giving them any choice can help build their dignity. 

“It’s knowing what battles to pick and what’s really not that big of a deal because at 90, she’s lived a full life,” Kauffmann said. “If she wants to eat junk food all the time and bread and candy, go for it.”

Both Kauffman and Toledo observed that the personality of coworkers and not necessarily the number, determined the mood of the whole nursing home. 

“Her name is Cindy and she loves elderly people,” Toledo said of one particular coworker. “She walks into every room, with a smile on her face. If the resident likes hugs, she’ll give them a hug. She brightens up the room. The shades are up, the lights are on, and she tidies up the room while she’s talking with them and just makes them feel like a real person.” 

Besides providing medical assistance, nursing home staff make sure residents get out of their rooms, stay fed and clean, and provide for their emotional needs as well. 

“You do have to be willing to help them in the most humbling ways, but also like they’re still people,” Toledo said. “Like, just sit and talk when they want you to listen to their stories that they’ll tell you over and over.”

With this new initiative, Kauffmann pointed out that smaller nursing homes may not feel the effects due to lower patient turnover and staff cooperation. 

“The nursing home where I was, it really wouldn’t have helped because probably 90% of the time, it was pretty slow, and then the other time, people from the other side of the nursing home, came over and helped,” Kauffmann said.

However, Toledo thinks that the three-hour care threshold overlooks the time nurses invest emotionally in their residents. 

“We have certain residents that were that we call independents, where they do a lot on their own,” Toledo said. “Sometimes we’ll just let them do their thing, but they’re in the nursing home for a reason. Because they may not be, as physically disabled doesn’t mean that they deserve any less care.” 

Maggie Fipps is a junior Journalism student and the Editor in Chief of Cedars. She enjoys playing the piano and thrifting, and you may spot her around campus sporting Packers gear head to toe.

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