Arlington hospital offers refuge to displaced nursing home residents

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on April 4, 2012 at 5:34 PM

Updated Thursday, May 17 at 5:50 PM

ARLINGTON — "We went out into the hall and laid down like we were supposed to," recalls Kaye Russell, "Even those of us in wheelchairs did that, too."

The 70-year-old described the tornado that hit the Green Oaks Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Arlington Tuesday as frightening. 

She was in a wheelchair with nowhere to go, essentially homeless after it hit.

"Yes, we were all very scared," Russell said. "We didn't know what to do."

None of the residents was seriously injured in the storm, but tornado damage to the Green Oaks facility made it unlivable for now.

And finding care for 131 elderly, often physically disabled and medically fragile patients turned out to be a huge challenge. 

Some residents left with family members; others were bussed to nearby nursing homes.

And then came an unprecedented offer of help from Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, which opened up an empty overflow unit that until Tuesday had been dark.

"Within probably about an hour, we had the unit open; we had beds ready for them," hospital president Kirk King said.

On Wednesday, an entire wing of the hospital was filled with displaced nursing home residents, some still very scared.

Calming, familiar faces from the nursing center staff are in charge of the unit, not hospital employees. Continuity is important in elderly care, where change can cause stress and depression.

"Panic or mood swings are common whenever they have the different kind of environment," said Green Oaks medical director Dr. Melchor Acosta. "We try to get them together, the same staff, as much as possible."

"We're all family, so there's a lot of love," said Eddie Morales, a Green Oaks nurse.

Hospital administrators admit it's an unconventional arrangement. "It's the right thing to do," King said.

No one knows how long the hospital will be hosting the nursing home guests. Green Oaks staff said they expect bingo games and other routine activities will be scheduled for their residents soon.

Nursing home residents who thought they'd seen everything in life say they have learned yet another thing about community... and kindness.

"Things could have been much worse," Kaye Russell said, "but we were all very fortunate... and very fortunate to come here."

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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