Handicap This!: Nursing home blues

May 3, 2019

From the May-June 2019 issue of News and Letters

Chicago—Nursing homes have been around since the 1800s. They were called almshouses back then, and housed senior citizens, the disabled, orphans, those with mental illness and people who were considered insane. 


We still hear about abuse, neglect, harassment and discrimination. My mother died recently in one such home from infected bedsores. Had she been properly cared for, this would not have happened. 

As soon as you are put in a nursing home you lose freedom and independence. You feel, and are treated, like a prisoner. You can’t do anything without the staff’s permission. It’s assumed that you’re stupid and don’t know what you’re doing. You are treated like a child. 

Our home is understaffed, and underpays the people who are supposed to take care of the residents. People who can’t go to the bathroom by themselves often can’t get a CNA to help them. In overcrowded homes illnesses quickly pass from one resident to another.


The 40 residents on my floor are jammed into one day room that should only hold half of them. Wheelchairs are stacked three or four in a row in front of each other. Those of us with walkers don’t want to be boxed in, so we go to where there is a couch—but we all can’t sit on it. Because of the overcrowded day room, some people stay in their rooms, and the staff encourages that. That means they’re often forgotten at meal times.

I have seen psychological abuse here. One CNA complains about what is in the diapers of the ones who wear them when she has to change them. “That so gross,” I’ve heard her say, “icky,” and “Jesus Christ,” to make it clear that she doesn’t want to deal with it. 

One morning a CNA left my roommate lying naked on the bed for over an hour with the bedroom door wide open. Anyone walking by could see her. She and another CNA returned and laughed at the sight of this elderly naked woman lying on the bed. I’m sure my roommate was aware enough to be embarrassed.

When this happened again, I tried to cover her with a blanket. The CNA came in and took the blanket off her and gave me a lecture about not trying to take care of anyone at the home.

 I reported a CNA who physically threw me into my wheelchair. I was not believed by the administrator or the social worker. 


Some say we must do away with nursing homes altogether. But with the budget cuts and the threats to do away with Social Security and Medicare, I’m afraid that an influx of people leaving nursing homes would put a strain on current services like the Colbert Program and the Dept. of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). Under our current political climate, that would be used against us. 

Trump and his far-right cronies are going after the lifelines of people, including the elderly. Social services programs are underfunded, and the DRS Program is constantly under fire in one way or the other. 

ADAPT, an organization of the disabled, has made great progress in fighting negative changes and will continue to fight. We need to abolish nursing homes and other institutions. That can only happen if we uproot the sexist, racist, homophobic, ageist capitalistic system we have now. We need a new society based on new human relations. The only way that can happen is if we have a revolution, one that is ongoing in both practice and theory, what Marx called a revolution in permanence. 

—Suzanne Rose

One thought on “Handicap This!: Nursing home blues

  1. Sadly, capitalism has generated a homophobic, racist, ageist society that has created a nursing home “industry.”(And I bet you thought an “industry” was a system of producing things, not places to care for those who need assistance!)The culture Rose describes underlies even facilities serving middle-class residents with constant family visits, Nevertheless, the “lowest-level” (read: lowest-paid, hardest-worked) staff is most likely to provide kindness and human interaction with nursing home residents, despite the generally anti-human, poisoned atmosphere.

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