Individual treatment and a high regard for human dignity mark the best nursing homes.

In 1965, the u.s. Congress passed Medicare and Medicaid legislation, and the nursing home industry boomed overnight. Motel chains snapped up independent pursing homes in large numbers, and stocks issued by nursing home chains rocketed on Wall Street. Financial analysts advised their customers to jump in, and they issued profit predictions of 20 percent or more. From 1960 through 1976, nursing home expenditures rose from $500 million to $10.6 billion, and the number of homes soared by 140 percent.

The rest, as they say, is history. Throughout the seventies, newspaper after newspaper carried scandalous tales of financial fraud and horrible mistreatment of nursing home residents, the result of unscrupulous owners trying to increase profits by cutting corners. Even before the Medicaid era, old-age homes were not generally regarded as gracious places to be. In many minds that image still endures: one of a large, white, ramshackle house converted for the purpose, with old folks whiling away the hours on the front porch, watching the world go by.

It’s scant wonder, then, that many people are nervous at the prospect of what lies ahead when they can no longer care for themselves, or that children feel guilty to find themselves even thinking that a nursing home might be the best place for an aged parent. This situation is a tragedy in itself, for across the country, Christian organizations, mostly church denominations, are running nursing homes and retirement centers that are models of love and devotion, and exemplify the best of what Christians are called to do here on earth. Most of these enterprises belong to the minority of homes that function on ...

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