Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

The median annual cost of a nursing home room is now more than $87,000, according to a recent survey. To an uninformed member of the public, I’m sure that seems like a lot. But what the average person doesn’t know is that the price also includes strippers, so it’s actually pretty reasonable.

That’s for a private room. For something tastefully semi-private, it’s about $77,000. No word on rates for a two-person pup tent in the flower bed next to the employee smoking area, but the staffing ratio would be off the charts.

Maybe it’s surprising to the general public that a yearlong stay in a nursing home costs so much. Maybe it’s surprising it doesn’t cost a lot more. But regardless, it’s a lot, and when most people hear figures like that, their eyes just glaze over. A couple could faithfully save for 50 years, end up with a few hundred thousand dollars in a retirement account, and exhaust it in five years — especially if they both have to move in to the skilled side of The Beeches at Creeping Meadow.

For many, knowing how much a year in a nursing home costs must be like knowing the distance to Mars. The numbers have no meaning because they can’t imagine walking there.  As a nation, we generally have no concept of healthcare economics, why it costs so much or where the money’s going. We’re not shoppers, we’re hostages to the extreme healthcare event. Either insurance will pay or we’ll go bankrupt — or if we’re lucky, both. But either way we won’t really understand what happened. 

As for our final years, we’ll not prepare better financially because we know that whatever we do will be nowhere near enough. It’s impossible, so we ignore it. Sure, there are long-term care insurance options, but relatively few Americans have purchased or even explored them. So instead, we’ll show up when the bottom finally falls out of our lives and we’ll all just pray the government cares.

It will be depressing that first day as a nursing home resident, to know my decades of savings will be spent in months. But then I’ll get distracted by the glorious sight of that shiny silver stripper pole, and the future will seem a whole lot brighter — regardless of who ends up actually paying for it.

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, who cobbles these pieces together from his secret lair somewhere near the scenic, wine-soaked hamlet of Walla Walla, WA. Since his debut with at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.