Guest Columns

I saw the (nursing home) sign: A counterpoint

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Kevin Fox
Kevin Fox

Editor's Note: The following is a response to Tim Mullaney's blog, “I saw the (nursing home) sign Part II.”

Dear McKnight's readers,

I am writing in regard to Mr. Mullaney's article of December, 17, 2013 titled “I saw the (nursing home) sign part II: Trouble in Goffstown” in which he referred to myself and others as “crazy.” In addition, he misrepresented my position and that of others and, in doing so, helped to befuddle what could have been an important lesson for your readers.

Mr. Mullaney admits that he did not speak to the “crazy neighbors” in question.  He also says that he “expected Lennox to be a brash, self-righteous, pugilistic type. Of course, he sounded like a perfectly reasonable person pushed to the edge by crazy neighbors and arbitrary municipal ordinances.”

There's that C-word again.  Crazy isn't a good word to apply to people you've never spoken to.

Mr. Mullaney takes Mr. Lenox's account as if it happened in a vacuum. It presumes that there were not actions on Lenox's part, which drove the response he got from his neighbors. There were many actions.  If Mr. Mullaney or the editors of this publication would like details I would happily provide them, however neither this letter, nor the issue from which it ultimately stems, is about the Bel-Air, nor is it about Mr. Lenox as a person or businessman.  What it is about are the actions, imperious and unneighborly, that Mr. Lenox chose to take, and has continued to take, in this affair.  It is also about the teachable moment readers of this publication could glean from the circumstances currently simmering in the village of Grasmere, NH.

Behind that missed opportunity there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of community. There are two distinct types of community at play here: there is the idea of the community-at-large, the people: that vague, indistinct collection of individuals and interests which includes everyone who drives by the nursing home, people who interact with the nursing home, folks on the other side of town, unrelated businesses, recipients of donations and the like. The other kind of community is a distinct, definable group of people who live around the facility and are directly affected by the decisions made there.

The first kind of community, the one that gets all the platitudes, is the kind Mr. Lenox and Mr. Mullaney are referring to in this case. Owning, operating, or working at a nursing home are all admirable. However, there is no innate benefit to the community granted by a particular facility simply by virtue of the facility's existence. A nursing home provides a critical service, but not an irreplaceable one. If the Bel-Air did not provide this service, someone else would and there would be no net loss to the community, which would function just fine. This is not to diminish the work done by the Bel-Air, but rather a statement of reality: if there is need of a service, which can be provided at a profit, it will be done by someone.

That other kind of community, the community of neighbors, are the ones who will have to deal with Mr Lenox's decisions. His new sign appears to be perfectly legal. Deciding to run high-powered lighting all night in his parking lot the day after losing a zoning appeal decision is entirely legal. Insisting on high-powered lighting and a reflective sign is, apparently, legal. His proposed first message, wherein he states that he “didn't want this new sign, but” that I and my neighbors did, is potentially libelous and is logically fallacious (paying for something, a sign, for example, being clear evidence that you want it).  Are these the acts of a good neighbor, or a neighborhood bully?

The teachable moment here for your readers is that when your facility coexists with residential neighborhoods, one shouldn't act as if one is entitled to whatever new toy the town feels the need to hear public comment from one's abutters on. Saying that you want to be a good neighbor and acting like one are two very different things. A business in a primarily residential area is not just another business.  The rules are different, as they should be. There are several businesses in the village and I wish them all, Bel-Air included, continued success. But to suggest or believe that a business in a colonial, predominantly residential village and the strip of big box stores and shopping centers ought to be treated identically is laughable. I would not want that to be the case, even if I were a business owner in such a circumstance.

The issue is one of behavior. If a facility wants to be a good neighbor and member of the community, that mission cannot be discharge solely through networking with and contributing to local charities and public congratulations to graduating seniors at the high school. These are all good things, but are meaningless when the immediate neighborhood and the very real community the facility inhabits are held in contempt.  Being a good neighbor is not an abstract concept, but a very real behavior.

Regardless of the events of the past six months, I wish Bel-Air and all facilities like it success in 2014. Their mission is important and their work is good.

Thank you for your time,

Kevin Fox

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Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.

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