Nursing Home Reform


The Film

Two middle-aged African American women, nursing home employees, one on the left in a pink and white striped button-down shirt, the other in a grey polo shirt, stand in front of a room with an open door smiling at the camera. 

An elderly Caucasian man with glasses, looking dapper in a white shirt and tie, sits on a garden bench. His hand on a bronze statue of a boy, behind him is another bronze sculpture of a bird in flight, a lush green hedge and a patch of marigolds.  

A close-up angled shot of an elderly Caucasian woman, her thin white hair pulled back tightly, her lips pursed, looking towards the camera, not really engaging.

It’s a big leap for people to decide to move here.
For many people, it’s a sign of their impending mortality.
—Kathie Eilers, president, Saint John’s On The Lake

ALMOST HOME is a feature-length documentary that follows the daily lives of residents and staff at Saint John’s On The Lake, a retirement community in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Through a memorable cast of characters, candid interviews and true-life drama, ALMOST HOME presents real stories of aging—frightening, tender, funny, surprising and honest.

At Saint John’s, an upscale retirement community with bright, spacious living quarters, residents mingle for afternoon cocktails, choose their own daily schedules and pursue hobbies like woodworking and playing bridge. But they also struggle with the mundane and often unspoken facts of aging: including disability and dementia, changing relationships and shrinking independence.

In a common area, a slender, thirty-something Caucasian man with brown hair and glasses smiles at the camera, holding three helium balloons, wearing a white shirt, slacks and a red tie. To his left, an elderly Caucasian woman smiles while looking at him from the couch.
Resident Dolores Haig with Saint John’s On The Lake administrator John George

ALMOST HOME offers an inside look at the lives of these residents, their families and those who care for them as each adjusts to the challenges of growing older. ALMOST HOME filmmakers Brad Lichtenstein and Lisa Gildehaus introduce couples bonded and divided by disability, children torn between caring for their dependent parents and their own families, nursing assistants doing difficult work for near-poverty wages and visionary nursing home director John George, who is committed to transforming his century-old hospital-like institution into a true home.

Under George’s leadership, Saint John’s On The Lake is reinventing its 135-year-old medical model of care (think hospital) with a social one (think home). His goal is to transform the way people see nursing homes—not as institutions of boredom and despair but as vibrant communities where residents live rich and fulfilling lives. To succeed, he will have to win over skeptical managers, resistant nurses, overworked and underpaid nursing assistants, complacent residents and often-overwhelmed family members.

In a time when the topic of aging is often dismissed or ignored, ALMOST HOME bravely challenges stereotypes and assumptions about seniors to reveal a truthful and thought-provoking portrait of life in a retirement community.

Learn about the people featured in ALMOST HOME >>

Find out about nursing home reform >>

Read the filmmaker Q&A >>

Top photos, L-R:
Certified Nursing Assistant Enchantra Cosey, left with her mother, fellow CNA Jeraldine Cosey
Independent living resident Ralph Nelson
Nursing home resident Dolores Haig

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