The Case for Community Nursing Home

Vahe H. Apelian, Loveland, OH, 9 November 2010

It is said that a scientist wanted to study the effect of electric shock on roaches. So he administered a jolt of electricity to the roach and measured how high it jumped. Then he severed one of the legs of the roach and did the same and continued on doing so until all the legs were severed while measuring all the while how high the roach jumped when given the electric shock. He then concluded that the roach becomes insensitive to electric shock as its legs are severed. Data can lead to such interpretation.

Vahe H. Apelian, Loveland, OH, 9 November 2010

It is said that a scientist wanted to study the effect of electric shock on roaches. So he administered a jolt of electricity to the roach and measured how high it jumped. Then he severed one of the legs of the roach and did the same and continued on doing so until all the legs were severed while measuring all the while how high the roach jumped when given the electric shock. He then concluded that the roach becomes insensitive to electric shock as its legs are severed. Data can lead to such interpretation.

I was reminded of this story after having read Viken L. Attarian’s guest-editorial about demographic database where he states: “for example, there have been several attempts in the past and even recently to create Armenian retirement homes or homes for the elderly, the argument being that our elderly do not speak English or French and prefer to be with other Armenians (services to include Armenian cooking, church services and Armenian traditional activities). While this might have been the case 30-40 years ago, there is no scientific evidence that suggests that this is true today, i.e. that 10 years from now we would actually have a group of retirees who would want, need and be ready to finance such an effort. We could be wasting a lot of resources raising the funds to build such an institution but it could be simply another enormous waste of our resources.”

On a positive note I thought this might lead to healthy discussion in regarding the need for more retirement homes, assisted living, and skilled nursing within the Armenian community.

To give some structure to my train of thoughts I would like to have the following introduction. I served on the board of trustees of the Home for the Armenian Aged, Inc. in Emerson, NJ for a decade. My last board meeting was the evening prior to my departure day, as the company I would work for relocated me first to be followed by my family. That makes my last board meeting in March 1995 and which brings my first board meeting 25 years ago. I am fast approaching middle 60s. Consequently I was 39 years old when I joined the board, at an age when one does not give much thought of getting old. Those ten years became an education for me. My father’s last year was in a nursing home in LA, not the Ararat nursing home. My mother is now living with us. Eventual need for a nursing home looms for her as well it does for me, as kids grow and move away.

I would also like to note that there was a time in my youth when I considered Diaspora transient on our way to settle in Armenia. I admit I had utopian and euphoric notions of a homeland and was not prepared for the stark reality of the past 19 years. I am now convinced that Diaspora will be my lasting place and that my granddaughter will all likely live, God willing, all her life in Diaspora. Therefore, we do have obligations to attend to matters pertaining to our long-term stay in Diaspora as we do towards our homeland. A nursing home in Armenia for Diaspora Armenians is not a viable option. Who among us would want to leave family and friends behind and move to Armenia to spend the twilight of his or her later years there?

It would be a wrong notion to visualize an Armenian nursing or assisted living home run by an Armenian staff all through. It is very likely, while some of the professionals such as doctors, nurses, administrators etc. may be Armenian, the reality is that the majority of the staff , be it nurses’ aides, dietary workers, activities assistants, housekeeping will be non Armenians. Even then you need to be conversant in English or French or both to have good communication with all those who will take daily care of the person. Proficiency of the English or French language is not relevant to have retirement home within the community at large.

Community financing of an Armenian nursing home may be mischaracterization without defining as to what the financing entails. Obviously nursing homes function under strict federal, state or government guidelines and there is state assistance by way of Medicare or Medicaid in case of U.S.A. It is a common fact that even for the so called financially well prepared, their savings get depleted and thus they outlive their savings. Obviously community sponsored nursing homes entail erecting the facility and managing it. I do not mean to say administering it. In United States there are such nursing homes in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Michigan and California. However, I do not think they are sufficient to meet the needs of the aged Armenians.

Why the case for community nursing homes then, when all function under the same guidelines? In my view community nursing homes render better quality care. They are by nature under the watchful eye of the community. They become magnets where school children go to perform, priests go to render mass, dignitaries to visit, and our national and religious holidays are observed. Many auxiliary groups congregate around the ethnic nursing homes and there is a better pool of volunteers. Well beyond the language issues there are real life advantages for community nursing homes.

The Home for the Armenian Aged, Inc. in Emerson, NJ was founded in 1938. At its 50th anniversary, in 1993, I researched and wrote the story of its founding and progress the community had made from maintaining a chicken house and growing their own vegetables on the premises of the Home for the residents’ use in its formative years to the veritable institution it had become fifty years later. I had concluded my history of the Home thus, and 17 years later I stand by that conclusion.

I quote: “The sociologist claim that we are heading towards a graying society and statistical projections predict that an increasing number of the population will need the care of a nursing home in the twilight of their later years. Also there was a large influx of Armenians in the mid-seventies from Middle East and what was the former Soviet Union, who in case of need, most likely will seek the familiarity of their ethnic nursing homes. Such trends indicate that the Home will continue to function as a viable institution well into the twenty first century. However, members of the community need to continue to assume responsibility of managing the Home prudently and soundly. The ever escalating cost of health care, and the dwindling financial resources, paradoxically couples with increasing compliance standards, ever so more will require the continual community management and support to keep the spirit and the purpose of its Founders alive and viable to meet the needs of the once productive citizens of this nation”


  1. It is likely that by the time

    It is likely that by the time your granddaughter is as old as you are, there will be no Armenian Diaspora.  Maybe you are ok with living in the Diaspora but to assume that there will continue to be a Diaspora and to hope that your descendants should also live in the Diaspora is a fairy-tale at best, and dim-witted at worst.
  2. Vahe Apelian’s Optimism

    I admire Vahe Apelian’s optimism, but do not share it. Like him I too am in my sixties. I am not sure whether my children will uphold the values that Vahe promotes, let alone my grandchildren.
  3. dim-witted?

    The Vahe I know from his articles and postings neither lives in a fairy-tale world nor is he dim-witted.  

    Clearly you do not agree with everything Vahe wrote in this piece.  That is both good and is your right.  What don’t you agree with and why?  That would be of benefit to all to see another point of view.  

    Being derogatory?  Not helpful at all.


  4. LG and Noubar and the Case of Diaspora Future

    Sireli LG and Noubar,

    I wish your comments were within a different context than with the case for community nursing home! Having said this, I am upbeat about our future and I believe it is not a hollow optimism. Our Armenian world has shrunk, like the rest of the world, in ways that I could not have imagined a decade ago.

    Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week the past and the immediate present Armenian history making is at our fingertips. We know of the good, the bad and the ugly Armenians anywhere in world. We are connected to each other in ways that we never had before. These exchanges attest to that. We made it! However, I am not implying that everything is rosy. Far from it, they are not! Diaspora is a fact of life in this flat world, in the words of Thomas Friedman. Mighty nations, such as India and China have sizable Diaspora and deal with its reality.

    Khrimian Hairig established the Armenian Church in North America in 1898. The first Armenian Apostolic Church in North America was found before that, in Worcester in 1891. I bet with all certainty that the Malatia, Sepastia and other Armenian parishioners of that very first church agonized over the fates of the church and the community seeing their children and grand children grow on these shores way, way too different than themselves.

    However, here we are now, almost 120 years later, North American born and bred and the rest of us. I believe we are better off now, more confidant, more savvy. We have created a vibrant and not so vibrant communities but not a perfect ones for sure. As people, we are masters of ourselves in ways that we never had during the past few hundred years. However, most likely those early parishioners may now find us much different than the Armenians they envisioned. It would not have been fair for them and it would not be fair for us as well to use the same attributes over the succeeding generations.

  5. In my own defense and for the sake of fairness

    Dear Mr. Apelian,

    I read with great interest your articulate and passionate piece where you make the case for an Armenian nursing home.  Your article is well-thought and the personal story dimension that you bring certainly resonates with many of your readers, including me.

    I am also glad that my own piece was the instigator of yours.  You not only raise many valid points, but have addressed a key topic which arguably needs to be addressed and debated in all Diasporan communities.

    However, please allow me to point out certain issues, in my own defense.

    1. My piece is NOT about nursing homes.  It is about projects that can be undertaken by Canadians of Armenian descent through unified efforts. The case of the nursing home is simply mentioned in a paragraph as an EXAMPLE of a project that communities embark on without having done due diligence to the needs of the community.

    2. You have chosen to quote me at length, yet a key sentence that immediately succeeds the paragraph you quote, mainly "I am not saying that there is no such need" is left out. At best, you are quoting me out of context.  At  worst, you might be guilty  of misrepresenting  me to y our readers.  I am  though  hoping  that  they  will  do me  the courtesy of  reading my piece for themselves and reach their own conclusions about it.

    3. You start your article essentially comparing me with the foolish "scientist", who reaches the wrong conclusions by misinterpreting the data.  I am aware that one can prove anything with statistics and also that one can reach any conclusion using wrong inferences (I have even been a teaching assistant of statistics in graduate school). Perhaps you have chosen to do so for dramatic effect. But you did not need to.  Your article is excellent as is and did not require such embellishment.

    4. Surely you understood that I was arguing for the need for valid statistical and scientific data for our communities.  Which in turn can become the impetus for social policy action by our institutions.  Are you suggesting that such data is unnecessary, simply because it could be wrongly interpreted?  If that is the case, then perhaps all governments should shut down their census bureaus, all central banks should stop collecting economic data, all medical and pharmaceutical scientists should stop using statistical approaches to analyze the efficacy of medical treatments and all businesses should stop doing market research used to increase shareholder wealth.  All in the name of fear from wrognful interpretation.

    5. While your case is, I am sure, valid for the community in NJ or perhaps even the USA overall, you cannot assume that it is the case for other geographies.  Our communities have different histories, are at different stages of their evolutions and most importantly, the way health care is delivered in my country (Canada) vs. yours (the USA) is diametrically opposite to each other.  Debates about language of delivery of service, public vs. private models or even partnerships are issues of the day which are still unresolved, and can create major obstacles to project implementation.

    6. To further illsutrate my point, In relation to the specific issue of nursing homes, I am led to believe that the one you refer to in NJ is probably administered by an independent charitable community organization.  That would be unthinkable in Montreal. Over the past 50 years there were at least three aborted attempts to create such a community nursing home, and I was a member of the organizing committee of one of them.  In the end, that one failed simply because the communiy organizations would not trust each other and decided to pull out . Another effort was actually actively undermined. Whenever any organization tries to bring such initiatives under its umbrella there are always those who accuse it of siphoning funds to the parent institution,  because of the lack of transparency and accountability.

    Finally, I would not accept the credit for starting a debate about the need for community-based nursing homes.  That one belongs to you alone. I never intended to embark on that topic, although I was hoping to generate debate (but mostly action) about the relevant issues in my article.

    Congrats again on a very good piece.  I look forward to reading more of what you write.


    Viken L. Attarian

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