Finding a Nursing Home When you Don’t Speak the Language

teri lim photo

Teri Lim, an attorney in Los Angeles, had a tough time finding a nursing home for her mother. After a stroke, her mother needed constant care but many nursing homes in the area were ill-equipped to deal with Korean-speaking patients. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s Note: Finding a nursing home for a loved one can be a daunting task. The job becomes more complicated when that family member doesn’t speak English. As part of our ongoing health series, Vital Signs, we hear from Teri Lim who immigrated with her parents to Los Angeles from Korea. After her mother had a stroke two years ago, Lim started searching for a place to give her mom around-the-clock care. 

By Teri Lim

I found this great rehabilitation home, and I took her there (but) she couldn’t last a day because she couldn’t speak English. When she pressed her button for help, someone would peek in, but my mom was not able to really fully articulate what was wrong with her, and they would just leave. Then she would press the button again.

After a while my mom was perceived as kind of a difficult patient because her needs were not met. She was so frustrated. I could just see in her face that she was very strained.

It was hard to find a place where my mom felt comfortable. But I finally found a nursing home in Koreatown. There are Korean nurses, and they hire interpreters. There are enough nurses out there that my mom is able to communicate.

There are a lot of below-average nursing homes. I was surprised to find that this one, and the other one I visited in Koreatown, are (among) the few that received an average rating.

They have services, like church services where Korean pastors come. They also have an activities person, who does activities in Korean. My mom is starting to take advantage of it, a little bit.

It took her a long time to accept the fact that she’ll never be able to go home. But lately she’s been smiling a little and kind of accepting the fact that it’s okay to be there.

There’s a saying in Korean that you need to be helpful to your parents while they’re alive, and when they’re gone, even if you cry on their grave, it’s useless. So, with that in mind, I always remind myself that I’m going to be there when she needs me, not when she’s gone.

That story was reported by Susan Valot. 

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