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One woman's nursing home history

The movement toward making nursing homes more homelike rather than hospital-like really got underway in the 1960s. Here's a bit of history about how one such nursing home got started in a small town north of Bemidji. The author, Evelyn Rehn, had raised her family and then had decided to become a nurse.

"It was July 1964, and I had just graduated from the Fort Frances nursing school as an LPN, when the hospital administrator told me she had two openings. One was for a night shift nurse and the other was to follow the opening of a new town hospital with organizing the old hospital as a nursing home. I was assigned the nursing home job with the administrator's parting words, 'This is YOUR BABY now, Good Luck.'

"I called the nursing home staff together over coffee, and told them that this was to be a nursing home with the emphasis on HOME, moving from hospital mode to a more relaxed nursing home mode. We started by getting residents dressed in the morning, and we began serving meals in the old operating and delivery rooms. The house-keepers worked hard cleaning and setting up tables and chairs, while I worked to get the patients who were to move from the hospital to the nursing home interested in the changes. As the patients-turned-residents settled at their tables, I told them we would have morning and afternoon coffee times in the new dining room. They loved the idea.

"Many residents came reluctantly to the nursing home for care they could no longer do for themselves. They were sure that they had come to die and they resisted change. I made it a point to talk to each resident to find out their interests, hobbies and abilities, and just to get to know them and find things to interest them.

"I wanted to offer a Sunday afternoon church service, so I invited the area clergy to a meeting to explain my plan. I found them very cooperative, and they took turns leading the services and got church members to bring snacks and visit with the residents. The people of the churches were very enthusiastic, and continue to this day.

"The doctor in charge was thrilled with our progress, and said he noticed a change in many of the residents. So I continued to make changes along with my full days' work as charge nurse and medications and treatment nurse.

"I visited an older woman in the hospital who was being admitted to the nursing home. She lay quietly on her back with her face covered with her forearm, and barely responded when I spoke to her. In time I found she had been an avid knitter. I asked her if she would knit a pair of liners for my husband's leather choppers. When I came again, she had them finished and was busy knitting some child size mittens. She was kept busy making mittens to sell to staff and others. She was dressed and out of bed and quite happy with her new business. She had found a reason to live, and lived happily in the nursing home for several years.

"One old gentleman was barely responding when he came to us, and had come to die. Later when I brought him medicine, I was humming an old hymn and he started to sing with me. After that he was always ready with a song. Our newest project was making a garden in the back yard with the help of the garden club, so I took this man to see if he would be interested. He asked if I knew where to get some rhubarb for the garden, and I told him I had some. After I went home, he walked about a mile to my house, and I helped him dig some roots. The rhubarb is still there, and the cooks use it for desserts for the residents. The man lived there very contented for several years.

"Some women residents wanted to have a daily devotional together. I found the Radio Bible Class out of Grand Rapids, Mich., would send us free material, and the nursing home continues to have a daily devotional time.

"We organized the residents to grow pre-planted plants in their rooms, and then the housekeepers helped to transplant them to pots in the garden. Soon they entered some of them, as well as knitting, crocheting and leather belts and billfolds, and even a resident's quilt, in the county fair. The fair board made a special class for their entries, and the ribbons for their awards decorated their rooms for a long time.

"We had parties and picnics, and Saturday hair setting times, and soon the nursing home was full with a waiting list. Nursing homes have come a long way from the old county poor house of the past. If the time comes for you to consider one, don't approach it with fear. Go and visit nursing home residents, observe how they are cared for and find a home. There are good ones out there with dedicated staffs, working hard to make your stay positive and happy."

Next Month: Evelyn tells about some changes for the better among the residents, and other changes at the nursing home.

Rachel Scott is a regular Prime Time contributor. Lynn Fossen is director of nursing at Havenwood Care Center.