The nursing home rip-off, and advice from an escapee

Bert Breuer

June 05, 1991|By Bert Breuer

I AM an escapee from a Baltimore nursing home.

A few months ago in this space, I reported on how I'd finally managed to check out of my "nursing home gulag," and then to establish myself -- as a 70-year-old paraplegic confined to a wheelchair -- in my own lovely apartment near the University of Baltimore.

In that earlier column, I described the enormous pleasure I got from moving into this dandy apartment on Mt. Royal Avenue, and from the "independent living" that I've been able to achieve.

Now I want to share a few of my best coping strategies with other senior citizens -- in the hope that some of you may also decide to attempt a getaway.

I'll start by posing a key question: What tools do you need most, after setting up shop (at the tender age of 70) in your own apartment?

The answer is simple. The first tool you need is attitude. The secret to acquiring -- and sustaining -- a positive attitude about independent living is this: Learn how to enjoy yourself!

In my case, it comes down to a simple matter of taking a few minutes each day to count my blessings.

For example, every time I sit down to the tasty supper I've prepared for myself, I remember all over again the plastic dishes and utensils we used in that last nursing home. It may not sound like much, eating your own home-cooked food from regular chinaware, instead of plastic.

But ask any older person who has been "institutionalized" for any time at all about the horrors of cafeteria-style food and plastic forks, and you'll get a shock: They'll tell you that home-cooking is terrific!

It's a matter of attitude. Whether I'm celebrating the food in front of me, or the chance to climb into my wheelchair and leave the building any time I wish, I'm always reminding myself of one thing: The struggle to get here was worth it!

That's one tool.

Another can be found at your local supermarket.

Trust me on this: Finding a supermarket that delivers to elderly people, or takes pains to help them find what they need before exhaustion sets in, or provides special ramps for those confined to wheelchairs is an absolutely crucial step on the road to independence.

In Baltimore, I recommend the folks at Superfresh highly -- because they've gone out of their way again and again to help me and several other elderly paraplegics to get our groceries home.

Another important tool for independent living is adequate medical care.

For top-notch information (free of charge) about obtaining nursing assistance in your new home, or about outpatient care available at local clinics, why not call the Visiting Nurses Association? Veterans may also want to check in with the local Veterans Administration hospital.

Another good source of medical information is your local union hall, where medical specialists frequently are equipped to provide both suggestions and contacts for those in need of cost-free advice.

Two other local freebies also can contribute enormously to the mental health of the senior citizen: the public library and the university system. Most of our local colleges and universities now feature "Golden I.D." programs which permit elderly students to take courses without paying a nickel for tuition.

Here's one more vital tool, a defense against the fear of burglary that many older people (especially paraplegics) feel. Why not talk to one of the reputable communications companies about installing an effective alarm system? These days, you can rest easy with the knowledge that most systems are tied directly into local police departments.

But it all begins with the most important tool of all: your attitude. By giving thanks for the little things and then taking the trouble to think your way through problems and locate appropriate PTC resources, you, too, can successfully achieve the kind of truly independent living that makes it a pleasure to get out of bed each morning.

Bert Breuer writes from Baltimore.

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