History Of Nursing Homes  

A book entitled No Place Like Home written by Karen Buhler-Wilkerson talks about the history of nursing homes in the US. According to the book, nursing at home started out in South Carolina in the city of Charleston by the Ladies Benevolent Society in the 1840s. However, it was only in the 1920s that an insurance company allowed nurses to visit homes of people who had life insurance policies. It was in the 19th century that nursing homes for the old were set up. Prior to this period, the society looked at the family to take care of their aging and ailing loved ones.

People, who had no family but were well off, used to hire servants to take care of them. On the other hand, those, who did not have financial resources, had no option but to go to an almshouse in their neighborhood.

When the Industrial Revolution came to the US, people started moving away from their families and soon the concept of extended families was no longer the norm. Hence, when people fell ill, especially seniors, they needed looking after. This led to the formation of nursing homes.

Nursing homes initially took care of health needs of people who could no rely on family to take care of them when they became old and ill. The first nursing homes were a product of churches and women’s groups that were especially set up for single women and widows who did not have too much money. These nursing homes offered much better place for ailing single women and widows compared to almshouses and hence, were sought after. However, the first nursing homes did not come for free. Those wanting to live in them had to pay an entrance fee and also required a certificate claiming that they were of good character. Unfortunately, these requirements made it difficult for the poor to enter into the nursing homes.

It was in the 20th century that the society began to realize that the poor and those with debilitating health conditions needed care too. Hence, nursing homes were built with specialization. Some were meant just for kids, others for young people and still others for people suffering from mental ailments. However, even then the seniors were neglected and many still had to go to almshouses. It was only in the latter half of the 20th century that nursing homes for the elderly were set up.

Today, the elderly in the US have many options, including nursing homes, if their health fails them. However, this was not the case a few centuries ago.

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The New England Journal of Medicine: No Place Like Home: A History of Nursing and Home Care in the United States


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