Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Green House Project

The Green House model is to create "small intentional communities of elders and staff." Finding its roots from the Eden Alternative approach, founded by Dr. Bill Thomas, Green House homes are intended to be a viable alternative to traditional nursing homes. Imbedded in neighborhoods, Green House homes are not only architecturally part of the neighborhood, looking just like every other home, but they integrate the goings-on of a neighborhood, including opening their doors to local residents. Designed to house and care for six to ten elder residents, Green House homes are organized around a self-manged team of individual workers and leaders who all share in the tasks involved in caring for the residents - everything from housecleaning and cooking to medication management, delivered in ways completely different from those in an institutional setting.

Dr. Thomas has led innovation for over a decade in the reimagining of elder care. He speaks often about the lack of respect towards elders in our culture, including the institutionalization of our citizens as we age. Struck by the loneliness affecting a vast majority of aging Americans, he set out years ago to find suitable alternatives to the high cost of "at home" care and the cold stark environment of nursing homes. His Eden Alternative approach has been adopted by many traditional nursing homes, creating smaller "residences" within larger facilities. For example, if there are large populations of a particular ethnic group inside a nursing home, that facility might organize a unit around the residences, providing ethnic foods and traditions to ensure comfort and familiarity to those elders.

In 2001, Dr. Thomas received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to take things to the next level. He piloted the idea of the Green House. He then partnered with NCB Capital Impact, a national nonprofit group that provides capital to underserved communities. Since then there are 18 cities and towns participating in the Green House project. With 16,000 nursing homes in the United States, Green House homes have a ways to go. Their influence is growing on traditional nursing homes, in just the ways that the Eden Alternative has affected many across the country.

I have a lot of respect for many traditional nursing homes. My own mother was in one during the last months of her life and I spent a lot of time sitting by her bed, observing the hustle and bustle of staff as they care for large numbers of residents. I remember thinking about the demands on a staff to provide this kind of care. I also saw many a resident who looked lost and lonely. With the creativity of Dr. Thomas and those behind the Green House project, we can all envision a time when choices for living as we age will be as abundant as the choices we experienced at other stages in our lives.

For a local flavor to this news, consider the work of Washington Park Cares (WPC), which we have written about previously in this blog. Taking inspiration from Beacon Hill Village, our Denver-based WPC, offers services and companionship in a neighborhood setting so that those who prefer to stay at home as they age can do so with a local support system to rely on. NCB Impact has played a role helping Beacon Hill Village emerge as one of the pioneering neighborhood "villages" across the country. WPC, Beacon Hill Village and other pioneers in this field, present a regional workshop on June 15 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Hyatt Denver Convention Center. Get details about this event or register now.

Celebrate the one year anniversary of the launch of WPC on Wednesday, June 3, 2009 at picnic area #3 at Grasmere Lake near the Franklin St. entrance to Washington Park in Denver. The festivities start around 4 p.m. For more information, visit WPC.

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