Editorial: Those Who Care

Saturday, December 02, 2017

On one level, the rapid decline and failure of the Brookside Nursing Home in Wilder raises serious questions about state and federal oversight of such facilities at a time when many are being purchased by investors without local ties. But on another, it has provided a reminder of the work that is being done at places like Brookside.

Staff writer Nora Doyle-Burr’s recent story about the bond between some Brookside employees and the facility offered examples of people for whom going to work was more than just a job — it was a meaningful part of their lives, without a strict separation of work and family life. One nurse recalled how her sons learned to walk there, how she felt her children had “extra grandparents.” Staff held baby and bridal showers at Brookside; a nursing assistant told how she stopped on the way home from the hospital after she’d given birth, and a resident helped her change the baby’s diaper. Children from the community happily came each Halloween to trick or treat at Brookside; one can only imagine how thrilled residents were to see a parade of children in costumes.

Paul Keane, an occasional contributor to this newspaper, volunteered at Brookside, one of the community residents who brought in dogs regularly to greet staff and residents. Science has confirmed what the heart already knew — humans, even those advanced in age or infirmed, benefit from the unconditional love that pets freely share. Residents also benefit from mental stimulation; Keane wrote in a recent column about how a longtime recreation director once recruited town police to shut down the road for a parade of antique cars past Brookside. Special events like that and regular activities aimed to bring liveliness to residents’ days.

A staffer also told Doyle-Burr that nursing assistants would take turns sitting with residents who were near death and didn’t have family nearby, “because they didn’t want the person to be alone.” These sorts of actions and sentiments were reportedly par for the course during the decades the Rice family owned and ran the facility. When out-of-state investors bought it and another nursing home in Colchester, Vt., a decline began that turned a five-star facility into a two-star, troubled one.

Atul Gawande, M.D., who wrote Being Mortal, an examination of how medicine deals with aging and death, told a Senate committee last year that oversight of nursing homes concentrates on care plans and quality measures, on issues of health and safety. The need for that cannot be overstated, but it isn’t what the affected value most. Gawande said the “single, consistent lesson” he learned in his research for his book is that people facing serious illness or infirmity “fear more than anything’’ losing autonomy over their lives. They want to have a say over matters like privacy, their daily schedule and room decorations, and want “opportunities to pursue purposes larger than just mere existence.” The Brookside staff likely understood that quality of life is what people most desire when life itself runs short.

We aren’t inclined to throw the word hero around; readers can decide for themselves if some of the work at Brookside, described as emotionally and physical difficult, and not the best-compensated in the medical industry, wasn’t in some sense heroic. It’s good to be reminded of such things so the vulnerable population in nursing homes aren’t overlooked — or the people who care for them.