• Novelist, Nicolas Rouillé was looking for a food job between two writing projects and decided to work in an Ehpad (residential facility for dependent elderly people).
  • In T'ont pas trouvé pire comme boulot ?*, which comes out this Friday in bookstores, he tells this intense professional experience.
  • For 20 Minutes, he analyzes the different facets of life in a retirement home and confides how much this professional adventure has marked him.

But why on earth does a novelist suddenly become a hospital service agent in an Ehpad (residential facility for dependent elderly people)? In T'as pas trouvé pire comme boulot ?*, which comes out this Friday in bookstores, Nicolas Rouillé explains the reasons that pushed him to try the experiment between two writing projects, and this in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. An adventure so strong that it generated his irrepressible desire to tell it.

This personal book differs from Victor Castanet's famous investigative book Les fossoyeurs, published in 2022, which revealed the dark secrets of the Orpéa group, world leader in nursing homes. The picture that Nicolas Rouillé of the Ehpad delivers, without being idyllic, is less gloomy, as evidenced by the interview he gave us.

Why did you decide to work in a nursing home rather than in a field close to your job as a writer?

At that time, in 2020, I was looking for a food job. And for me, it made sense to work in nursing homes, because I had an interest in the elderly. I had no degree or experience in the medico-social field, but the sector has such recruitment needs that it was not an obstacle. Initially, I had no intention of writing about it. But very quickly, I felt the need. I also wanted to show the very human aspect of these professions, of which we should be proud.

The Ehpad that employed you was public. Does this explain the difference between your story and Victor Castanet's observations in Les fossoyeurs?

I do not have a global vision of the Ehpad, but the one in which I was employed was well managed. It was neither blameless nor catastrophic, but average. I think that the number one concern of public nursing homes is the well-being of residents, not the search for profit as for some private nursing homes. There was no food rationing, but on the contrary a certain food waste. There are also no restrictions on protections for residents, as described by Victor Castanet.

You describe hard, underpaid, tiring jobs...

The teams would like to do their job in good conditions, but often this is not possible. Because the rates of supervision provided in the Ehpad by the health authorities are insufficient. The staff does not have much time to spend with each resident to exchange, play a game, go out in the garden, when these missions should be at the heart of the job. This would significantly improve the daily lives of residents.

Working in a nursing home also means seeing work constantly being reorganized, according to the staff and health instructions. Changes in habits that can become weary in the long run. The salaries of these trades are too low, they should be upgraded, while better equipping professionals. It is not normal, for example, that in an establishment like the one where I worked, there is only one lift per floor.

Does team spirit reign between nursing assistants, hospital service agents, nurses...?

Yes, overall, despite the turnover and the number of temporary workers. We help each other when there are peaks of activity, we laugh to relieve the pressure ... There is often a good atmosphere.

These trades are undervalued. Yet you demonstrate how they demand great precision...

Yes, the technicality of these professions is also relatively unknown. To reposition a resident in his bed without hurting him, one must have experience. Performing skin care also requires knowledge. Feeding an elderly person requires a lot of precautions to avoid false roads.

"The tired of life are legion here", "Many want to get out of here", you write. Is sadness the common lot of residents?

Not systematically, but for some, this is the first time they have lived in a community, making it difficult for them to adapt. Especially since the pace of life is imposed. Some residents never have visitors, either because they no longer have family or because they have abandoned them. In addition, people arrive in nursing homes older and with a deteriorated physical condition. They come to end their lives here.

The toilet is a delicate moment. How do caregivers go about it so that it is not too humiliating for the residents?

They pay a lot of attention to it and it can last half an hour. They discuss to make the moment lighter... What is complicated is when a resident refuses to be washed. If you force it, it's a form of abuse, but if you leave it without a toilet, it's a form of abuse too.

You denounce boredom in nursing homes. Why aren't there more animations?

In the facility where I worked, there was one facilitator for every 88 residents. This is very insufficient, it means that the health authorities assume the fact that the elderly are bored. The job description of hospital service officers or orderlies should clearly indicate that facilitation is part of their duties. Because it is abnormal that some residents never go out or participate in any collective leisure. It is urgent that the mental health of residents be taken into account in nursing homes.

Especially since you show the effect produced by the singing sessions organized in the retirement home where you worked...

This helps to connect the generations together, as the staff, often young, mingle with the residents to sing Dalida, for example. Songs often evoke happy memories and they work the memory.

Have you created special relationships with certain residents?

When you take the time to talk to seniors, it's a world that opens up to the past. They tell their life, the period of war... Even with a person who loses his mind, it is possible to build a bond. Taking his hand, listening to his monologues... Even if the exchange is limited, the very fact of being present with her comforts her.

How have you responded to resident deaths?

When I worked there, on my floor, there were 10 deaths in a year and a half. Even if we know that residents come to end their days at the Ehpad, we are never really prepared. And as a hospital service worker, I often had to empty rooms or clean the mortuary room, which is always a painful time.

You write, "The idea of hanging up almost scares me." Why did you find it difficult to leave the Ehpad to return to your real job?

I became attached to a lot of people. I felt a form of guilt because I felt like I was letting the residents down. I had trouble cutting the link and besides, I returned to the Ehpad. When I told my colleagues that I had written a book from this experience, they welcomed the news. Probably because I looked kindly at them.


Haven't you found a worse job? Nicolas Rouillé, Lux, 14 euros.

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