April 2023

April 2023

Different Nursing Homes


It’s hard for most of us to imagine before nursing homes, a time when there were none. That was the time when family took care of family, and elderly who were no longer capable of living alone were taken in by family. That often resulted in three and sometimes four generations living under one roof. Overall, that worked, but there were sometimes tensions among family members.


At least that was the norm in the Christian West. Not all cultures are the same, and for many cultures it was typical to view the elderly as people who were no longer givers, but takers, a drain on society’s resources, and they are treated accordingly. That view is gaining traction in this country. An increasing number of people here advocate for various forms of euthanasia of elderly.


The Christians have a long history of caring for people who need help, including the elderly. In Under the Influence, Dr. Alvin Schmidt traces houses for the care of the aged to Emperor Justinian (483-565), and says that during his reign, “churches were operating homes for the aged called gerontocomia (geras = aged + comeo = take care of).” We know of no such homes before that.


During Medieval times, the Church – often through monasteries – took care of education, medical care, food for the hungry, and care of the elderly when needed. The fading of the monastery after the Reformation left a gap for all those – and more – Works of Mercy. Then, “in the 1800’s in the US, women's and church groups began to establish special homes for the elderly persons” (WIK).


Church groups built and ran nursing homes out of a sense of compassion for elderly who had nowhere else to go, including the Lutheran Home for the Aged – East, with facilities in Vinton and on 53rd in Davenport. As time went on, more and more families got away from taking in elderly family members, and the nursing home became the norm; the go-to choice when the time came.


From those Christian beginnings, ownership of nursing homes has shifted to more homes being run by private ownership, and compassion has increasingly been forced to compete with the profit motive. Not all nursing homes are the same, and now we’re seeing a rise in what I call “Corporate Nursing Home,” where private organizations run more than one, and sometimes many, homes.


I have been regularly going into nursing homes, mostly to visit people, for over 40 years. I see things, and I hear things, and I smell things, and not all nursing homes are the same. The one my mother-in-law went into – she got poor care and didn’t last long. My wife’s aunt is currently living in one that gives very good care. These days, I am in nursing homes around Grand Mound a lot.


When my mother got out of rehab in 2016, she did not go to the nursing home. She went home, because she wanted to die at home, and she did. Last August, when Iowa City could do no more for my sister, she went home and died there. But sometimes that doesn’t work out. The aunt should be in the nursing home, and really has no choice. Not all nursing homes are the same.


In Christian Service,


Pastor Anderson