REIMAGINING QUALITY CARE
In the healing journey, sometimes luxury is just what the doctor ordered
In the context of health and social services, what looks like a luxury can in fact be a necessity.
In the medical world, research continues to emerge about the physical and mental health benefits of treatments like massage, salt therapy and sauna. It is encouraging to me that more and more donors, as well as the general public, also understand why such “luxuries” are included in the new wellness center opened in Jerusalem by Yad Sarah, the healthcare and social services nonprofit where I serve on the board overseeing international fundraising efforts.
The wellness center features hotel-standard accommodations and services designed with accessibility in mind. Its clientele are people recovering from illness; people with disabilities or chronic conditions; women recovering from the trauma of stillbirth or perinatal pregnancy loss; and those seeking wellness for body and soul, which is key to good health. The center is an important bridge between hospital care and recovering or receiving care at home, which is our core mission at Yad Sarah.
Occasionally, first-time visitors and donors to the center have questioned the value of the facility’s features, pointing out things like how it would have been cheaper to build the pool in the basement rather than its sunlit rooftop location with the view of the Jerusalem skyline. In fact, the pool’s modern design allows wheelchair users to independently enter the pool from the deck rather than endure being hoisted down into the water in the typical lift; and the resort-like setting of the center — where people dealing with medical issues, illness or disability can stay with their families and enjoy nice meals, a relaxing atmosphere and beautiful views of the city at a heavily-subsidized price — is not a superficial flourish but of essential benefit to health and wellbeing.
The widely-held notion that nonprofits should and do offer cheap or subpar facilities, goods or services is changing. Especially in the health and social services sector, the assistance, activities and resources that nonprofits provide are critical in improving and saving lives. In this context, if something is nice — luxurious, even — it is not a luxury. In many cases, it is a necessity.
Fostering a culture of dignity: The gold standard
It is true that conditions for those living with illness and disabilities have improved vastly in recent decades, from better medical treatments and more inclusive education systems to comprehensive laws mandating accessible buildings and infrastructure.
At the same time, many of these people still endure humiliating or exclusionary experiences. For example, when my own mother, of blessed memory, broke her hip, she felt terrible embarrassment and more like an object than a person every time her caregivers used a lift to hoist her out of bed and into a chair. People who need a facility with special equipment or accessible amenities can also find themselves separated from their families for long stretches, unable to spend time together or enjoy shared activities like meals or vacations.
In addition to society’s ethical responsibility to treat people with dignity, there is evidence to support that individuals living with disabilities or illness have improved health outcomes when they receive a first-class experience rather than a perfunctory one. Two decades of research by Johns Hopkins professor Mary Catherine Beech has found that this sets off a whole cycle of improvements, including better adherence to treatment regimes.
This underlines exactly why investing in high-quality care, experiences and facilities — and donating to organizations that invest in these — meets real needs in real lives. It is critical to offer innovative equipment, facilities and services that can address issues related to patient dignity. Making things sometimes dismissed as “wellness treatments” accessible to those with disabilities is also worthwhile because research increasingly shows their physical, mental and emotional benefits, and these patients struggle to find facilities that can accommodate them. Offering programming that is fun, relaxing or entertaining and involves the families of people living with disabilities or illnesses is also part of fostering a culture of dignity.
Investing in facilities and services that make people feel good about themselves — that allow them to experience relaxation, leisure time with their loved ones, or activities that are not usually accessible to them — is one of the most effective ways a nonprofit can help restore the sense of dignity that their condition or even their prior medical treatment eroded. Real luxury and quality of care is often a feeling; and if an organization creates this, it has succeeded.
Philip Bendheim is the director of Yad Sarah’s International Board of Overseers.