“Be kind, especially with the infirm. Love them well … Oh yes! Be kind. It is a great grace God is giving you. In serving the aged, it is he himself whom you are serving. – Saint Jeanne Jugan
Have you ever spent much time in a nursing home? What were your impressions? I can assure you that if you have the opportunity to visit the Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home and independent living apartments in the Brighton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh, it will be different from what you expect. You will see with your own eyes what can happen when love and the dignity of the individual are made the highest priority in nursing care.
My first experience of their facility on Benton Avenue came soon after moving to the neighborhood. My wife and son were invited to attend a “Tunes with Tots” program at the home where preschoolers serenaded and sang with the residents. That evening my wife, who has been a nurse for nearly a decade, reported to me that she had never been in a nursing home as nice as this one. It wasn’t long until I had the chance to see it for myself. As usual, her assessment was spot on.
What do they do?
To tell it as simply as possible, the Little Sisters of the Poor provide a home for the indigent elderly from the city of Pittsburgh. All residents must be at least 65 years old and financially needy – meaning they could not afford to be cared for by any other facility. Here in the Pittsburgh home there are 48 private rooms for nursing home residents and 45 independent living apartments.
Beyond the basics of room, board, and medical care (which are all provided with excellence), what sets this home apart is that it truly feels like a home. The Little Sisters and their staff have created an environment in which everyone is loved and cared for in a holistic way that attends to each resident’s physical, social, and spiritual needs. While some facilities are sadly known for the isolation and loneliness of the residents, the Little Sisters of the Poor home in Pittsburgh is just the opposite. Everyone there recognized as a member of the family here in this home and is encouraged to participate, as they are able, in the community around them.
Why do they do it?
Entrance to Little Sisters of the Poor – Pittsburgh
The Little Sisters of the Poor is a religious order founded by Saint Jeanne Jugan in France 180 years ago. The story goes that when Jugan was a young woman, she saw an elderly woman begging on the side of the road. Jugan responded by bringing the poor woman home to her apartment, placing the woman in her bed, and returning to the streets to beg on her behalf. The Little Sisters have carried on this tradition based on the belief that human life is sacred and that each unique life, especially the lives of the poorest and the weakest, should be embraced with hospitality and compassion.
The need amongst the elderly poor has not lessened in two centuries. In fact, as families go their disparate ways in this modern world, the need has likely grown. There are still many elderly poor here in Pittsburgh who face decisions like having to choose between medication and food each month. The waiting list for admission to the home is, sadly, very long. The order’s local Mother believes they could easily fill up seven or eight similarly sized homes without any difficulty if they had the resources to do so.
How you can help
There are many events at this hidden gem on Pittsburgh’s Northside where your help would be welcomed. Volunteer opportunities abound but perhaps the most valuable role would be to simply serve as a willing visitor and companion. Not every resident has family and friends who are able to sit with him or her. Perhaps you could be that person whose presence would enrich and comfort a resident whose long life brought them to this place of need.
Of course donations, both in-kind and financial, are also necessary for the Little Sisters’ mission to remain stable and even grow. Around 50% of the home’s budget is funded through the donations of supporters who believe in the work that is being done. I’d really encourage you to visit. Your opinion of what a nursing home should be will likely be change if you share even a small role in increasing the joy that infuses this home.