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More Old Mean Girls

A couple of weeks ago I told you about some old mean girls in a retirement community freezing out a 97-year-old new resident. Now comes a report of not only more old mean girls but of retirement community officials supporting them.

In the independent living area of her continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Alabama called Redstone Village, Ann Clinton had long enjoyed the weekly bingo game with her friends. She has had Parkinson's disease, then last fall she underwent back surgery requiring a stay in the skilled nursing wing.

When she had recovered, it was easy to use her motorized scooter to rejoin the game in the independent living section of the same building.

“'I have many friends over there,' Mrs. Clinton told [Paula Span of The New York Times]. 'We had a lot of fun together.'

“But in October, the bingo wars began,” writes Span. “First, the activities director told Mrs. Clinton she would need a 'sponsor,' an independent living resident to invite her and accompany her to the game. No problem: Her buddy Lynn Mielke agreed to play host.

“'I had a ball,' Mrs. Clinton said. She had missed the camaraderie.”

It wasn't long, however, before the director of the CCRC said that Mrs. Clinton could not be in the independent living section for any reason, an order Mrs. Clinton ignored until -

”One night, the staffer said, 'Ann, you’re not supposed to be here, because you’re up in skilled nursing,' Mrs. Mielke recalled. 'Ann said, I’m staying.”

“At which point perhaps half the women in the room walked out in protest of her playing.”

Read that last sentence again (emphasis mine): “At which point perhaps half the women in the room walked out in protest of her playing.

Mean old girls.

This is where Paula Span's story gets really interesting. She reports that some CCRCs set up exclusionary policies, “mandating separate facilities and activities for those requiring different levels of care.”

(You may recall a similar kind of retirement community story involving use of the dining room I told you about in 2012.)

Apparently, this kind of segregation is not uncommon. CCRCs market their communities as “active” because they know that healthier elders do not want to associate with those who require more care. But some people believe the separation of activities and use of facilities may not be legal:

“'...that’s why we have anti-discrimination laws,' said Eric Carlson, a directing lawyer for the National Senior Citizens Law Center. 'You don’t want to capitulate to people’s prejudices.'

“He and Ms. [Susan Ann] Silverstein of AARP believe that Redstone’s policies may violate the federal Fair Housing Act, which outlaws discrimination based on disability, and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

“'Businesses should make accommodations for people with disabilities, and that goes double or 10 times for facilities that care for older people,' Mr. Carlson said."

Mrs. Clinton's adult son, Kin, tried to work out a solution with the CCRC but then they just shut down the bingo game altogether. One of the mean-old-girl contingent from the independent living section told Ms. Span:

“'I’m very upset because I lost a game that I enjoyed,' said Fran Woodard...She blames Mrs. Clinton, because 'she broke at least three rules in order to come to an independent living activity to which she was not invited.'”

Yes, broke the rules that are mean, nasty and possibly illegal.

Since then, the independent living group has restarted the bingo game as a club that requires membership by invitation only.

Unto the grave, I guess, there will be people who will find ways to set themselves up as better than others and find ways to discriminate against them.

Way too often, my tribe embarrasses me.

There are more interesting details to this story which you can read here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today is – nothing. No story. It is on hiatus for two weeks. Please read more here.


Sometimes I just don't understand people. And am so happy to have friends of all ages and no exclusive clique.

One hopes that with age comes greater wisdom and compassion and, for many, that is true. Unfortunately, for others it means just becoming more of who they are. Life is too short (no matter what our age) for such pettiness. I love your blog, Ronni. Many thanks.

Thanks for your post.
I have worked in education and social services. I have long noted that bullying exists where those in authority allow it.

This is just another example of what seniors are forced to endure after moving into some assisted living residences.

Like Bruce says, residents must fight tooth and nail for even the smallest inch of rights and privacy.

And I am on the side of Bruce, one hundred percent.

There is a boss, or manager. There are rules. There are some stupid rules.

In some ALF's, adults are treated like kindergarten students, isolated from their friends, others eat crappy food alone in their rooms.

Bullies love this kind of atmosphere. It's open season on who to pick on and exclude.

Some residents refuse to let go of their former job role. Perhaps they used to be a CEO. Now they are in an ALF, but they are not capable of shedding their ego.

So what do they do? They start manipulating other residents.

They build a little empire around the bingo table.

Fight for your rights.

This mean scenario is so stupid, so defeatist, and so typical of bureaucracy gone wild, that it breaks my heart for Mrs. Clinton. How sad and senseless that this lady is prevented from doing what she loves and socializing with others. A new apartheid.

Dear Folks,
And how many maimed people are you playing with today?

Lots of impaired people you tool around with, taking care of their special needs? Slowing your own responses to match their increased needs for understanding and compassion?

Probably some of you are, but I would guesstimate most of us aren't.
So,are we the mean girls? I don't think so. I hope not.

What I do think, is that a lot of people have a big misconception as to what assisted living is and what it means. One thing it means is that every week somebody at the dining room table is missing....never to return again. (At least that is what it meant for my friend Dorothy who finally fled it, to live alone in a trailor and fall one day laying on the floor in shock for days before being found and then dying in the aftermath of that traumatic event.)

What it means is we are not playing in the sandbox again where somebody is trying to teach us to share and be kind.

"Levels of care" are a fact of life and make sense in a world that has an unlevel playing field from the start and not enough funds to level the field and not enough volunteers to come be nice to the struggling old folks. I do hope some of you aging folks are volunteering to help other aging folks. I do, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for me.

There seems to be no advantage to seniors to move to a continuity care facility when they have such strict rules about mixing their residents. And no one will ever convenience me that the meanness isn't "ginned up" by the staff, rather than from the people who live there. Heaven for bid the staff should have to look around for a resident who is in their care that day but who is on the other side of connected buildings, or to look out for someone who is not on their care list but who is sitting on their side of the continuing care facility. I've seen it with my own eyes, a sister-in-law who liked to go to a different section from where her room was and the others in that section of the facility were told to report her to staff so they could usher back to her own section. The herd mentality takes over but it's the staff that wants the rules to make their lives easier.

And I wouldn't be surprised that liability insurance plays a hand in it, too. Skilled nursing sections have a different level of staff than in the assisted living section.

"...what assisted living is and what it means. One thing it means is that every week somebody at the dining room table is missing....never to return again."

And your point, Riverwatch? That it is okay for a CCRC to discriminate among levels of care so not to disturb the sensibilities of the healthy ones?

Not in my world.

I guess I just never ran into any healthy people in assisted living. In my experience all are there because they became unable to do it alone.

No, I actually do not believe humanity should be subjected to "levels", but the reality is we are, and the biggest reason is lack of money. Clients with money can go to situations which cost more and provide more including better staff ratios and more interventions.

And yes, I do think it is ok for a CCRC to establish boundaries to protect clients from other clients who are undesirable for whatever reason...but usually "the undesirability" is because of physical and emotional problems which are too heavy to be carried by some other aged person who is hanging on (for the moment) a little bit better.
That's where good volunteering can come in: volunteering to provide companionship for the person who is not included and thus isolated.

Mean staff need reported to the Management.

Remember when Pauly's mother was bullied in the nursing home in "The Sopranos"? It was one of the "funny" bits in the series. Apparently this has been an issue for years that many of us never knew about.

Riverwatch: I think you make a lot of valid and good points. I wish I could reword my above post. I didn't mean to come off sounding like I think staff at these kinds of places are "mean" just because they follow the rules. We may not always understand the rules in care facilities but I seriously doubt they are in place just to be mean to its residents or to save money on staffing.

...and what if the Management is mean? What can you do then, but cry, and endure?

My husband and I are the 'young old' age group still -- at 76 and 71 respectively, we are healthy enough, competent enough, to be independent. For now. But... yeah. Very scary.

And I have never been fond of horror films.

The more I read about retirement communities, assisted living, etc., the more I think I'd just rather die than live there. I've lived alone for years and I can't imagine being forced into a situation where I have to obey other people's rules, engage in group activities, eat on someone else's schedule, etc. I suppose it's good for people who otherwise would be lonely, but it would kill me.

My heart breaks for Ms. Clinton, who apparently loved her bingo games and being with others. My first thought was that bingo is essentially an individual activity. It's not like the mean girls were playing bridge with her and having to wait as she struggled with trembling hands to manage her cards. Shame on the mean girls and the staff who allowed/enforced Ms. Clinton's "banishment."

How harsh the world seems to be becoming. Has it always been so, or has there been a real decline in civility, kindness, consideration and compassion?

When my in-laws were in an AL, I used to go out a few times a week, especially after my father-in-law died and my MIL was having such a hard time until we moved her back to her own home. It was quite an eye-opening experience, and very disappointing to see how disparity in means, abilities, and resources seemed to be working to segregate people in this facility just as much as it does anywhere else.

Since I met and experienced the "mean girls" in high school, I found them to be everywhere. Thus it' s
no surprise to me that they are holding court in assisted living, etc. and for years I tried to understand them. In the end you finally wake up to the fact that some people just find pleasure in it. I still don't get it but think that the feminist movement set us up to expect other women to treat us like sisters. Well they do...step sisters! It's all so simple in the end. It's the yin and yang of life, the dark and the light...

Here's the truth Riverwatch. You go home every night to your family, your nice home or apartment, your dog. You can get in your car a drive to a nice restaurant, movie or shopping mall anytime you want to. You have friends outside your living environment. Residents of ALF's CCRC's etc. do not have this luxury. Walk a mile in my shoes lady and see how much you would like living day after day under somebody's asinine rules that are put in place to control and not to help.
I always believed that a prerequisite for employment in a nursing home or ALF, should be to spend a week as a resident. Than tell me again about rules.

Bruce speaks with experience and understanding.
If we all spent several weeks in any assisted living place, we would none of us want to ever be trapped there.

Staff can be mean....report them to management.
Management can be mean.....report them to the Better Business Bureau and/or the state Licensing Board.
And Bruce, here is the haha reality....I stumble home to my home (which is deteriorating just like me) alone (unless family drops by because they need or want something like a home cooked meal), I'm allergic to dogs and cats.
You are correct that I am not trapped and I can stumble back out any time I want. But I am nurse enough to know unless I drop dead, there is "a process" ahead for me that is different than my younger days, and different than today.

I grew up with a "mean" sister and I never take other people's meaness as the sum of my world or even about me. Hey! I am nice!
Or as my sister would say, "a self-proclaimed nice person". hahaha

Thank the fates that I am fortunate enough to have a caring daughter who will move in with me and make it possible for me to die in my own home. Should my care become a burden for her I am going to commit suicide.

If I am lucky I will avoid a stroke or other disability that would prevent me from carrying out my plans.

No one can foretell the future and all we can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I decided a long time ago that I would rather be dead than live in any kind of facility - nursing home, assisted living or otherwise. And "mean girls" is one of the many reasons for my decision.

Let's be real - it is all about money. The facility has insurance to cover themselves (which they should), and it is cheaper if all the people in one section (activity, etc.)are classified at the same level. Then there is the Medicare insurance which covers people in rehab, but not in assisted living. If a patient is taking part in assisted living activities he/she might not be eligible for Medicare. Though I don't agree with some of this crazy stuff the care industry will do what it has to do to make and save money.

What Darlene, Pied Type and Bruce just said.

I don't believe that money has anything to do with how seniors are treated in senior homes.

No week goes by without a news story relating to someone being abused, one way or another, in some of the most expensive, cruise ship retirement homes.

One high end place in Montreal, an everything you can dream of building, a woman drowned in the pool.

She was alone in the pool, no lifeguard. Oh, but she was paying a ton of money to live there, and the building is stunningly beautiful.

The receptionists care more about their nails than the residents.

Big fancy houses often hide big messy problems.

Amen/ditto to Ronni and doctafil

I know a mean old girl. I watched her struggle with years of deliberation, some days wanting to sell her home and move some place where she might find friends after her husband died. Other days, she could not be sure. One thing was a constant though ~~ she was lonely and wanted friends.
One day, she made the leap and moved to an apartment in a group home for the elderly. She complained one day that she saw a growing number moving in with crutches or walkers. It upset her that some of them had difficulty eating in the dining area where she also sat.She said she really did not want to view them, and certainly would not take the initiative in making friendly advances.
Two years ago, I spent a solid 2 months in a nursing home/rehab center following a second broken hip. I assure you, I am not senile but I was often treated like many of those living in the rooms around me. One day I inquired of a _nurse_ about a new-to-me pill in that morning's little cup. I was looked upon with scorn and told I had no business asking.
I wish I could plan my death in my own home, or perhaps a hospital. These are the Golden Years ??

Oooh, my apologies. I do know that I should have made deliberate, spaced paragraphs. At this end, I made a point of making a few indentations to make my post more presentable. It didn't work quite as I'd intended.

Anyway, thank you for allowing me to vent here and thank you, all, for so many days letting me know I'm not alone.

Oops, I just lost my post when Windows stopped working! It was longer than this one will be, but I totally agree with Darlene and worry about the same thing. What if I become too disabled to execute what I call "Plan B"? I intend to do whatever I can to avoid residing in a "facility" for any length of time. From all I've read and heard, residents surrender all basic human rights such as autonomy and privacy (to say nothing of all or most of their money), upon entrance.

Wish I could read the entire article but the NYT is too pricey for me and their "10 free articles" are NOT readily available.

In years of visiting the elderly in nursing homes, we find the elderly disturbed with one thing or another, yet mainly unwilling to complain to management... for fear of being "outplaced" to an unfamiliar and perhaps worse facility.

In recent years we've seen establishments flush out Medicaid patients (paid for by chronically slow State governments) and bring in "rehabilitation clients" (paid for by Medicare with faster paying Federal $$).

It is VERY much a business.

Also, we've found "caregiving staff" too busy on their cellphones to do their jobs, and once again, no one is willing to complain. (Management knows who we visit, so it would be transparent to them if WE complained on their behalf.)

Elizabeth, Ronni has the site at the end of her post for anyone to read.

Simone and others...
That link you mention is good only for people who subscribe to the New York Times or for non-subscribers who have not used up their 10 (or whatever number it is) free stories each month.

The info about mean old girls makes me so angry and sad! I visit several facilities in my town regularly, and in one particular facility they let higher functioning residents from the dementia unit join in the assisted living activities as they are able (bingo and going out to eat for example). There is none of this “mean” treatment. It does seem illegal that folks are treated so poorly and at the prices paid they should be treated like royalty!!

All of us should have a Pan B. And hope we keep enough of our wits to carry it out if we find ourselves falling into the abyss of the euphemistically called AL or CC facilities.

That should be a PLAN B,

I wish I could be surprised to read this, but I'm not. It's like they are stuck in pre-school; so childish and mean.

I need a better Plan B -- Ronni, can you recommend a site where I can find one?

Sorry Classof65. Everyone's plan b is different - there are as many kinds of plans b as there are people.

You need to know what you want before you go looking for something or, rather, how to be sure it is implemented.

I am 74, and a couple of years ago I volunteered at a multi-use facility, one day in the assisted living section and one day in the secure "alzheimer" section. The folks in the secure section need a high level of care and support from both staff and volunteers. There might have been some who could mingle with the assisted living folks, but it would change the nature of the dynamics and limit the relaxed interactions. Folks in assisted living deserve to function and enjoy activities to the best of their abilities. The truth is, if folks from skilled nursing or the memory loss unit join with them, it no longer meets the needs of either group. Often the groups merge to view performances, but that doesn't require any kind of dynamic interchange. I know it doesn't seem fair, but it's also not fair to hold back the folks who are more "capable." It's a tough issue. Also, as I probably mentioned before, The Hemlock Society provides all kinds of information for the ultimate "Plan B."

Simone, Ronni's 100% right. Alas re the NYT: I know that in theory anyway, they allow readers 10 free articles per month, and I used to be able to choose articles carefully and stay within my "quota". However, starting sometime in early 2014 no matter what I tried, I got bounced back to the "Subscribe" screen. Altho' it's a great paper, I can't afford to subscribe. Since I refuse to be continually frustrated, I stopped trying to access my 10 freebies.

As far as "Plan B" goes, it's a very individualized thing. I absolutely know what I want for myself and have held the same views--which I've put in writing--for the past 20 years. Still, there are legal and medical issues that remain unresolved.

If I contract a terminal illness and am expected to die within 6 months, I'm fortunate to live in a state that has a death-with-dignity law. However, it has significant restrictions, and some conditions that afflict elders are not "terminal" for a VERY long time. In the meanwhile, they can sap our independence, dignity, "personhood" and resources. Unfortunately, they are likely to last much longer than I would choose to live with them. What then? Ah, THAT is the question!

A note of thanks from Mrs. Clinton's son:
My son Taylor sent me a link to this blog, and I'm delighted he did. Very grateful and encouraged by the support.
It's not about bingo folks. Mom is not permitted to participate in ANY activities or dine in IL or AL without invitation and escort, but she can go anywhere in the city and access these same activities, and be welcomed and happily accommodated for the most part. She has Parkinsons and can no longer walk. But she is VERY active, and will kick your hind parts in bingo. I reject the notion that it is either moral or good business to segregate folks simply because they live in an AL or Sknf facility, to avoid offending the sensibilities of a few. I would encourage you to read Paula Span's article in the NYT and the comments as well. Blessings. Kin Clinton

I am happy that Mrs. Clinton's son commented. I think many of us on Ronni's blog would enjoy visiting online with her.

I am still getting over the shock of over $300,000 down payment and $4,000 per month. Thankful I live in the Midwest where things are a bit cheaper.

This post has definitely resulted in a lively discussion in the comments.

Wonder what activities they have for people in the nursing home area?

One of the problems facing senior living facilities is the huge shortage of nursing staff, mainly CNA's (certified nurse assistants). Ask any administrator about the turnover of these staff members and you will be shocked: turnover of 30-40% annually is the norm. Part of it is pay (hard, messy work for $10-12/hour), but even facilities that pay well have problems. Turnover means staff shortages which means mandatory overtime, which leads to even more turnover. More turnover leads to staff less loyal to the facility and to the residents.

I've strayed a bit from the topic There is no excuse for the extreme treatment of Mrs. Clinton. Yes, there are some reasons (articulated in many of your comments) for not having all residents participate in all activities. But there is no excuse for having someone who is capable of participating deliberately excluded. And the management of this ALF has set a tone from the top that allows "mean girls" to thrive here.

Thank you TriciaB for your comment as I feel a need to defend the comments from RiverwatchRN.

Someone mentioned that staff should live a week as a patient in one of these facilities, they should also look at the other side and live a week as a staff member. I've been in that position and believe me it is hard, frustrating work.

As in life, there's good and bad in all things.

One of my favorite lines from "Out of Africa" is when the Baron say, "Baroness, your mother's money bought you a title. It did not buy you me."

Assisted living facilities may promise you friendships, but beware of advertising. We buy assisted living, not chums. We simply are not chums with all our neighbors, we don't invite everybody to our parties, we are not invited to all parties. That does not change magically because we are old and pay for assisted living.

There are those who do make friends among a new community, but a lot of people in assisted living do not and are lonely. Even when management provides vigorous interventions and activities, the failure rate is significant.

One thing to realize is most of us will not go into assisted living.
Most states have excellent programs to help us seniors stay in our own homes, rented or otherwise, until we die.
My social worker son, worked for the government's Area Agency on Aging and his job was making house calls, assessing continuing abilities, providing minor services, arranging gov't paid help with housework and making sure Meals on Wheels was working out, lining up volunteers to taking people to the doctor, etc etc. All this is done to keep us functioning in our homes. So don't skip considering this resource if you find you need a Plan B.

I rejoice that so many people care about aging people as evidenced by this blog.

If our society really cared about how the elderly are treated in assisted living facilities, the workers who staff them would be paid a living wage.
I assure you, they are not.

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