I do not think that I’d like to live my day-to-day life in a facility. When I hear “facility,” my thoughts turn to “sports injury rehabilitation facility” or “state of the art medical care facility.” To be sure, I have spent time in rehabilitation facilities and hospitals. Those places have their purpose, but none of them could ever feel like home or community. And when it comes to living day-to-day life, what I truly need is not pristine, efficient facilities but rather the feeling of home and community.
In our Say What? series, we look at some of the shifts in language that United Church Homes is making so that the organization can more faithfully and effectively pursue its mission of abundant aging. The move from “skilled nursing facility” to “senior living community” strikes me as an important one. This is not just a matter of semantics, but because “community” reflects a fuller notion of what we all seek in a place to call home.
It is possible that I am reading too much into it. After all, “facility” can simply be a value-neutral way of speaking about a physical structure. Even that’s a problem, though, because few of us speak about our homes in value-neutral ways. Say someone asks you about your home. You don’t say, “If we stripped out the copper we could fetch a tidy sum. Let me look up the current market value.” That would be so odd! A home is more than a house, more than a facility, exactly because it is a store of sentimental attachment and personal memories. So “community” is a better goal than “facility” in the same way that most strive to call a place home instead of just a house.
Facility vs. Community
But look a little closer at what’s implied by the differences in usage between “facility” and “community.” Typically, a facility is a place where people are expected to fulfill very specific and constrained roles. Your doctors might be friendly but probably they are not your friends, and that’s okay. Their role is medicine, not to be your friend. In a facility, the priority is nearly always on task, outcome and fulfillment of roles. Everything else comes later. Your co-workers may have a genuine interest in hearing about your hobbies and family life, but that interest soon will disappear if you stop pulling your weight.
Senior living communities are partly organized around the delivery of medical care, and in those contexts it is right to be concerned with efficiency, skill and outcomes. But senior living communities are about a lot more, too. They’re about new friendships, leisure, learning, hobbies that residents did not have time for until now, providing space and opportunity to host family and old friends. Most of all, senior living communities honor what is most important to their residents by creating space for individuals and small groups to experience meaning and express their purpose in life. These experiences of true community take shape more organically than anything that can be programmed and planned. They require a measure of freedom that generally is lacking when people are constrained by role as part of their attachment to a facility.
For an organization like United Church Homes concerned with abundant aging and the holistic well-being of their residents, “community” is a higher, holier ambition than “facility.”