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Refrigerators for residents

August 2, 2010
by Kathleen Mears
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When I first came here, many residents had small refrigerators. The staff made a point to tell me that I could purchase one and put it in my room. I did not see much need for one since there was a small refrigerator in the clean utility room where I could keep my salad dressing. I did not want anything else that would require refrigeration. Also, since I could not clean the refrigerator, I did not want to be concerned about science projects growing in it.

Many residents enjoyed their refrigerators. Some diabetics kept extra orange juice and other snack foods for themselves. One resident friend of mine was a picky eater, so she wanted lunch meat, her beloved onions, and other treats in hers.

Unfortunately, though, when a resident went downhill, the refrigerator was frequently neglected. The staff still took internal temperatures, but the food inside went uneaten and the family did not voluntarily remove it. Eventually activities took over, called the family, and emptied out the refrigerator. I felt sad when I saw a resident's refrigerator sitting on the shower room floor defrosting.

A couple of years ago management decided resident refrigerators had to go. Monitoring their temperatures took time away from dietary staff. The administrator did not feel residents needed refrigerators since her experience had been in several facilities where they were not allowed. I think the cost of running resident refrigerators was also a factor.

Residents were advised by letter that they had 30 days to remove their refrigerators. Some were upset but the administrator was surprised that nobody tried to fight it. Most residents willingly gave up their refrigerators. I even spoke with the ombudsman who told me she had received no complaints.

One resident, Mrs. M, was able to keep her refrigerator. We do not know how she did that but she had one thing going for her: the refrigerator did not look like a refrigerator. It looked like a cabinet, and because it did most people did not know it was a refrigerator. Some of us knew Mrs. M had a refrigerator and just ignored it. She can also walk, so she is able to get her own things out of there.

A few weeks ago the administrator and several others were chatting at our nurse's station. Later I learned they were discussing Mrs. M’s refrigerator. They were surprised that no one told on her. They considered taking her refrigerator away, but ultimately they decided to let her keep it.

The whole situation was so funny. Two years ago every refrigerator in the building left except Mrs. M’s. We were all silent contributors to the secret that she kept. She likes her refrigerator and enjoys having her favorite salad dressings and other chilled foods right at her fingertips.

I did not think that alert and oriented residents should have had to give up their refrigerators a couple of years ago. But that was the policy. I am sure each resident who gave up a refrigerator felt they lost a bit of independence in a life filled with dependence.

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Kathleen Mears

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Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...