It's a Friday afternoon at the Terrace Villa Care Center in Holladay.
Two residents sit in front of the building, watching cars zip by on Highland Drive. Inside, several more watch television in the foyer. Down the hall a woman lies in a lounge chair aimlessly batting at three colored balloons dangling from the ceiling. Across the hall another woman sits propped up in bed, playing solitaire. And downstairs six more residents sit around small tables in a large recreation room playing bingo. Their prizes are bananas and Hostess Ding Dongs.Tamara Wilson and Don Nixon both work at Terrace as nurse's aides. They say many of their friends have no concept of what a nursing home is really like.
They say their friends call such facilities "gross" and question how Wilson and Nixon can work in a nursing home. Wilson and Nixon tell their friends they are wrong.
Wilson said she started working in a nursing home when she was 16. "It was shocking to me," she said. She had never been around old people before but now says, "I love old people."
The aides are intimately involved with the nursing home residents. They bathe, feed and dress many of them. They sit and talk to them.
"If you sit down and talk to some of these people, you'd be amazed at what you can learn," Nixon said.
He said he has learned to treat each patient as an individual, realizing that they were once his age. "You figure this way - it could be me tomorrow or the next day. If you tell yourself that, you don't have time to be callous."
Ardis McCarty, a resident at the Terrace for one year, appreciates the aides and recreational therapist Mandy Fern. McCarty hungers for the intelligent conversations Fern has with her, something she can't often get with other Terrace residents.
"I think the thing I miss more than anything else is someone to talk with. You need someone to stimulate you."
She talks emotionally about her neighbors at the care facility and questions why they are in the physical state they're in. She says she tries to say hi to all of them.
One lady she knows has brain tumors. "She can't talk to me. The words are there, but she can't get them out. But we've become very good friends," McCarty said.
McCarty said the nights are the worst because there is no one to talk to and she usually doesn't get to sleep until 1 or 2 a.m.
She looks forward to Sunday and Monday church services provided by a local congregation but misses not hearing any lessons. "They bring little children in that do little things - it's like flannel board stuff," she said.
McCarty doesn't plan on returning to her home, located three blocks away from Terrace. Back and leg injuries require her to stay at the facility where she can receive needed physical therapy and the medical attention.
An 85-year-old neighbor seems more content to be at Terrace. Velda George has been in the nursing home for nearly 14 years. Because of a heart condition, she has to have nitroglycerin treatments every four hours.
Although she has a large family in the Salt Lake area, George is at Terrace by choice.
"I am glad I don't have to impinge on my family for my welfare because they aren't doctors or nurses, and I require that help," she said.
She likes conditions at Terrace and says the food is particularly good - especially the chicken dishes. She keeps busy watching television, playing cards and reading large-print books. Fern says George prefers to read romance novels.
Fern's job as recreational therapist is to provide activities that stimulate the residents. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, she conducts exercise classes, tailored to their capabilities. She holds regular bingo games, reads portions of the newspaper for residents, and organizes frequent van rides to area canyons or parks.
Working in a nursing home is not depressing, Fern said. And through working with older people, she has become less frightened of death.
Terrace administrator Mark Bybee said he finds a lot of satisfaction in providing an environment conducive to quality care. He became interested in the nursing care industry while working as a nursing home orderly during college.
He said he enjoys getting to know the person behind the shell and finds satisfaction in meeting the needs of his residents.
"We try to make it as homelike as possible," he said.