For some children, trips to nursing homes can be a little tedious. Ruby Kate Chitsey could certainly relate to that, as she visited one such facility alongside her mother in the summer of 2018. However, her mindset quickly changed following an emotional conversation with one of the residents – and it inspired the youngster to step up.
A resident of Harrison, Arkansas, Ruby’s mom Amanda Chitsey plies her trade as a nurse practitioner across five different nursing homes. One of them is the Harrison Rehabilitation and Health Center, which houses close to 100 beds. For the residents living there, though, the financial aid they receive can often prove problematic.
Indeed, more than half of nursing home residents live off the money provided to them by the government via programs like Medicaid. That program in particular covers their basic living expenses and medical costs. And the elders receive an additional $40 per month to pay for anything else they might want beyond that.
With that in mind, Amanda spoke about the drawbacks of the monthly budget from her perspective. She told CNN in February 2019, “The system is built for your family to cover those [financial] gaps. In reality we see over 90 percent of my residents – they don’t have family visitors.”
“[Those residents] don’t have family come,” Amanda continued. “Some… don’t have a car to come or their [relatives are] old and can’t drive. For whatever reason, families are not filling those gaps.” On that note, the nurse practitioner lifted the lid on some of the things that Medicaid didn’t cover at the nursing homes.
“A haircut is ‘extra,’” Amanda wrote on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe in November 2018. “Taking care of your dog is ‘extra.’ If [the residents] don’t have family that can cover the gaps, they go without.” And the nurse practitioner’s young daughter got a glimpse of that during a visit at the Harrison Rehabilitation and Health Center.
Ruby Kate is a regular visitor at the facility, enjoying the company of the many people living there. Despite that, though, the surroundings can sometimes be a bit boring for the youngster. And that certainly happened during one particular trip in the summer of 2018, as she searched for some excitement to occupy her.
Ruby Kate had to wait until the final moments of the day, though, before spotting a potential boredom buster at the nursing home. However, by the end of that encounter, the Arkansas native saw firsthand the issues that her mother had flagged up regarding Medicaid’s monthly allowance.
“One day as my mom and I were leaving the nursing home, a patient named Pearl was glued to the exit doors staring for a long time at something,” Ruby Kate recalled on GoFundMe. “I figured whatever it was must be pretty exciting because I hadn’t seen anything exciting all day. So I hurried to catch up to her before whatever this was disappeared.”
“I thought maybe it was a baby bird?” Ruby Kate continued. “A wreck in the parking lot? Ambulance? I get up there and there is a normal dog being led out on a leash to a car by a normal lady. That was it! Boring.” A few moments later, though, the youngster’s opinion quickly changed.
Indeed, there was more to this seemingly innocuous moment than met the eye. Ruby Kate said, “I asked [Pearl] what was going on and she said that was her dog of 12ish years. The dog had come to visit for the day, and she was staring at the door because she didn’t know the next time she would see her dog again.”
“Pearl’s face was so sad,” Ruby Kate added. “I thought of all the things in this world [she] could have, she would probably just ask for more visits with her dog. I know it costs $12 for a pet sitter/visit. I’m 11 and I have enough money saved in my piggy bank to get Pearl a few visits with her dog.”
It was an eye-opening moment for Ruby Kate, but few people could’ve predicted what happened next. And in response to seeing Pearl’s unfortunate situation at the nursing home, the youngster decided to act. So she started her own project, titled “Three Wishes for Ruby’s Residents.”
“This summer I took a notebook with me to the nursing homes and I asked the residents, ‘If I could bring you three things in the whole world, what would those be?’” Ruby Kate said on GoFundMe. “It’s a lot different than asking kids my age that question, because the answers I get are things the rest of us already have loads of.”
Meanwhile, the subsequent responses to Ruby Kate’s question further illustrated the issues residents faced with their finances. She recalled, “The first patient just looked at me and said, ‘I want some pants that fit.’ I saw then that his pants were really tight around his big belly. He totally needed pants.”
But the requests didn’t end there, as Ruby Kate continued to ask her questions armed with her notebook. However, the responses only got more emotional. The young girl wrote, “The next lady was always needing to use the phone at the nursing station to call her loved one.”
“[The resident] would sit there in public, often crying, having a private phone call in front of all the staff on the facility phone about her life,” Ruby Kate continued. “All she wanted from me was her own phone. She didn’t even ask for two other things.” But the young girl’s kind streak handed ended yet.
Indeed, Ruby Kate received a number of other requests from the residents, which further outlined the simple things that they were missing out on. The Arkansas native said on GoFundMe, “Another lady wanted a warmer blanket for her bed. Some wanted pet food (so many want pet food and services).”
“[They also wanted] McDonald’s French fries, new shoes and even Cheetos,” Ruby Kate added. On that note, her mother Amanda was somewhat taken aback by the responses. While her mom had made her views clear on the financial struggles some residents face, their requests still managed to catch her off-guard.
“When Ruby came back and showed me that journal, it was heartbreaking to me having done that [job for] so many years, I was missing the joy of my patients,” mom Amanda told NBC-affiliate KYTV in January 2019. The nurse practitioner then elaborated on that point, admitting that her daughter’s findings hit her hard.
“Talking about it still makes me emotional,” Amanda told CNN in February 2019. “I had known some of these patients [for] 20 years. They told [Ruby Kate] things they would’ve never told me because she was a child.” Meanwhile, after gathering all the information, the mom and daughter started to pick up the requested items with their own money.
According to Amanda, they spent a number of months buying items, with Ruby Kate also setting up a Facebook page for the project. Since then, the page has earned over 2,000 likes and more than 2,000 followers, clearly striking a chord with the online community. And as for the requests, some extended beyond the usual items.
“So many women had what my mom calls ‘correctable’ hearing problems,” Ruby Kate said on GoFundMe. “But [they] couldn’t afford a hearing device to help them hear visitors, family [or] the TV. A lady in a wheelchair said she’d do anything to be taken to [a] water park for a day to watch the kids play.”
With that in mind, Amanda made a big decision in November 2018, as she looked for some outside donations to help her daughter’s cause. The nurse practitioner subsequently started a GoFundMe page, sharing Ruby Kate’s story with the world. However, not even she could’ve predicted the response it generated.
Indeed, by January 2019 the GoFundMe page had reached a total close to $70,000. And the money raised continued to help Ruby Kate’s project, with some of it going towards the Harrison Rehabilitation and Health Center’s feline residents. The daughter-and-mom combo also provided the cats with more food, as well as a place to store it all.
The cats were also spayed and neutered, as Ruby Kate and her mom left no stone unturned at the nursery home. Meanwhile, mom Amanda focused her attention on the GoFundMe page and the continued donations from online users. And in her mind, there was a solid explanation behind its growing popularity.
“We keep going up because so many people have reached out to us,” Amanda told KYTV in January 2019. “The best part about this is that there’s so many people across America that want to do this in their own state. And I’ve never seen that energy toward this institutionalized elderly population.”
Alongside the “Three Wishes” requests and other items such as TVs and phones for the residents, Ruby Kate and her mother have put the donated money to good use elsewhere too. One day, the pair decided to surprise the Harrison residents with “Operation Happy Meal,” giving them all free meals from McDonald’s. And the kind gesture had an impact on one person in particular.
“This was my first Happy Meal!” resident Bettye Taylor told KYTV. “[Ruby Kate’s] a giving young lady. And for the spark God put in her heart for that, we are very grateful.” But in the youngster’s mind, the work that she and her mom were putting in was no trouble at all.
“[It wasn’t] new cars or a million dollars [that they wanted],” Ruby Kate told CNN. “They were very simple things that you could just go in Walmart and get. And that’s what we do.” And elsewhere, mom Amanda also looked to spread her daughter’s project across all of the nursing homes that she worked at.
As a result of that, Amanda recruited one of the nursery home residents to help them out. Following in Ruby Kate’s footsteps, Marilyn Spurlock was asked if she’d like to note down the wishes at her particular facility. And the elderly woman was more than happy to oblige, touching upon how much it meant to her.
“It gives me something to do,” Marilyn told CNN of her role. “It took away a lot of my depression, because I felt worthless and couldn’t do anything to help anybody. I’ve been here so long, I was no longer useful. Every day that goes by [now], I get a little more excited.”
On that note, Marilyn then gave a rundown of her new routine at the nursery home, before briefly mentioning the effect it has on the residents. She continued, “I go out into the hub, the areas where people sit. I look and talk to them and ask if there’s anything they need. It picks up their spirits.”
Meanwhile, the GoFundMe page has gone from strength to strength since January 2019. Indeed, the donated total currently stands at over $99,000, just under the $100,000 goal. More than 2,000 online users have given their money to Ruby Kate’s cause, with plenty leaving messages of goodwill on the website.
“You are an amazing young lady!” wrote GoFundMe user Amy. “I too have a [GoFundMe] campaign so I know how incredibly caring and generous people can be. The elderly need our attention and love and so many get forgotten. It’s wonderful that you are helping them to get these small treats that the general public takes for granted.”
“Keep up the good work, you are an angel,” Amy added. And fellow user Jennifer Davis echoed those words, while sharing her own the experience of watching people struggle financially. With that in mind, she couldn’t help but donate a sum to Ruby Kate’s growing project.
“I donated because I work in social services, and I know how little money individuals get to buy their personal necessities when living in the nursing facility,” Jennifer wrote. “I just really enjoy helping others in general, and to see the smile on their face really makes you feel like you are helping to make a difference in their lives.”
Elsewhere, there were some other messages calling for Ruby Kate’s project to spread beyond Arkansas. Those ambitions seemed to match up with the youngster and her mother, as they looked to take it nationwide. However, when it comes to their current work and effort, the former couldn’t be happier.
“It really lifted me and I felt really proud,” Ruby Kate admitted to KYTV. As for her mother Amanda, she felt just as fulfilled, bearing in mind her lengthy connection to the Arkansas nursery homes. The latter also spoke about the importance of the project to her daughter and how it gave her a confidence boost.
“This is [Ruby Kate’s] hobby,” Amanda told Good Morning America in January 2019. “This is where and how she has developed her own self-esteem and self-worth. Ruby rises by lifting others. It’s been food for her soul and mine, too. Often we have said, the two of us have gotten more out of this project spiritually than the patients. They’ve moved us.”