By Dr. Glenn Mollette
About 1.5 million American seniors now live in nursing homes. Seventy percent (70 percent) of them rely on Medicaid to pay the bill, which means they are low-income or have otherwise spent down their assets.
My mother spent the last few months of her life in a nursing home. My first wife died in a nursing home. My wife’s mother spent a lot of time in nursing homes. Today, I have elderly friends in nursing homes who I try to occasionally go and see. It’s the same old story. I continue to see a multitude of lonely, forgotten people who have been warehoused in facilities until they breathe their last breath.
Placing my wife in a nursing home was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. She was in the final stages of multiple sclerosis and needed 24-hour care which I couldn’t physically give. However, looking back emotionally and even physically I don’t think I would have been as drained if I had just kept her at home and tried to have cared for her. Nursing Homes are exhausting. You think at the time it’s the only answer, but then you are there numerous hours every day trying to make sure your loved one is not being neglected. In today’s nursing homes the chances are great they will be neglected because the average nursing home cannot keep enough staff to take care of everyone. One worker told me once she was in charge of taking care of 60 persons every night. She said that oftentimes there would be people she never saw on her shift.
Nursing home care cost is astronomical. Just a bed, three meals a day and an occasional bath will cost you around $7,500 a month. My mother-in-law needed rehabilitation. Three years ago her cost was over $15,000 a month for four months. My father-in-law shelled out $60,000 of their life savings for rehab. They had worked hard to save that money, but you can’t take it with you. However, most people don’t intend to work all of their lives so that they can turn their savings over to a nursing home.
Nursing homes are not a relief emotionally or physically and financially they will break you. Most Americans end up paying for their nursing home care via Medicaid. Going on Medicaid is no picnic as it means, in reality, you no longer have any means to pay for your care. Twenty years ago I was the pastor of a church with a small salary and financially we didn’t have anything except a house payment. Going to the local county office for health and family services and applying for Medicaid for nursing home care for the care of my invalid dying wife was tough. It was our last resort. We were glad it was available but it was emotionally tough. It’s the same office where you go and apply for food stamps.
There are some good nursing homes out there and many, many hardworking, caring nurses. There are some really bad ones out there too and they are all extremely expensive.
All the time we hear about Americans being medically insured. What about long term care insurance for aging Americans? Our nation is getting older. The baby boomers are a large chunk of our population – 75 million! Baby boomers are going to face bankruptcies and mega financial challenges as is this nation with the long term care of our generation.
Our politicians must come up with a long term care plan that does not require the financial ruin of millions of Americans. I know long term care insurance is available if you are not sick and can afford it. However, somehow we have to add long-term care insurance to Medicare. Yes, it will cost us every month to pay for it just like we are paying for part B now. However, it would be for real medical care in the nursing home with real rehabilitation if it is needed; and not just for a bed and three meals a day and an occasional bath. Plus it would spare the elders in this nation from having to file bankruptcy and go into poverty to have a shelter over their heads the last few months or even years of their lives.
Please add this issue to the national discussion.Dr. Glenn Mollette is the author of Nursing Home Nightmares – America’s Disgrace