Nuns offer 5-star care on Medicaid budget

By Margie Fishman, The News Journal

Little Sisters of the Poor load into a van weekly to make rounds to local grocery stores and various food purveyors to ask for donated food to feed residents at their facility who are less fortunate. Jennifer Corbett/The News Journal

The first thing you notice is the odor — or lack thereof.

That distinctive eau de nursing home is missing from Delaware’s five-star-rated long-term care facilities.

But that’s not the only difference. Lobbies aren’t filled with dazed residents slumping in wheelchairs. Staff respond promptly to room buzzers, follow detailed care plans and dispense correct medications. Even the food gets rave reviews.

This is what a top-tier nursing home looks like.

In Delaware, four of the state’s roughly 50 long-term care facilities for the elderly receive perfect scores across the board based on health inspections, staffing levels and quality of care, according to federal Medicare surveys conducted over the last three years.

Of that elite group, one — Little Sisters of the Poor in Newark — almost exclusively serves patients on Medicaid.

Among the others, Stonegates in Greenville and Country House in Wilmington don’t accept Medicaid. Nine Medicaid patients reside in the 60-bed nursing facility at Manor House in Seaford.

To make ends meet, the nuns that run Little Sisters beg daily for food and supplies from area merchants, depend on individual benefactors and an expansive network of volunteers, and leave the rest to “divine providence.”

It’s an unconventional, disappearing model but one that deserves a second look as the nursing home industry, dominated by corporate giants, slashes expenses to compensate for stagnant insurance reimbursements. Little Sisters is the only nursing facility in Delaware run by a religious order, though residents of all faiths are welcome.

Juggling prayers and paperwork, the 10 resident nuns are part of a global chain of more than 130 Little Sisters nursing homes, each adhering to their foundress’ centuries-old mission of hospitality and humility.

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