We all know the current state of our nation’s nursing homes. “Deplorable” is not too strong a word. Some of the problems are simply structural–the average facility is about 30 years old. Some of the problems are due to poor management and lack of caring, and some problems lie in the dehumanizing nature of large institutions.
An article in today’s Boston.com talks about a different kind of nursing home, a “Green House.” Compare the typical nursing home with this image, as described by writer Kay Lazar:
The aroma of spaghetti and garlic bread wafts from the kitchen as Marie Burke aims her walker toward the dining room table, where several of her housemates, a couple of them in wheelchairs, already have taken positions. Lunch is being dished up family style, and the conversation bounces from favorite meals — meatloaf and brisket — to friendly ribbing about who in the house is the real card shark.
Forget the long sterile corridors, antiseptic smells, and assembly-line feel. In this nursing home, elders rule. Residents decide when they want to get up, what they want to eat — and it’s all freshly cooked by specially trained nursing assistants who pull up chairs, fill their own plates, and join in the conversation.
This describes life in the $34 million Leonard Florence Center for Living–a new Green House Project home–in Chelsea, Massachusetts. The Green House concept was created by Harvard-trained geriatrician Dr. William Thomas to provide residents with an environment that fosters autonomy, personal choice, and social interactions.
The good news: Green House nursing homes have operating costs on par with traditional nursing homes. That means quality of life with no additional expense.
The bad news: There are only 89 Green House nursing homes, in only 16 states. An additional 27 are in development. Compare that with a total of about 16,000 traditional nursing homes across the country.
Could homes on this model be one way out of the nursing home mess our country is in? We certainly hope so. One thing’s clear: Most of us would never choose to live in a traditional facility. Is a little humanity too much to ask in our final years? The nursing home abuse attorneys will keep their eyes on these new nursing home models–if they maintain their integrity and caring, we’ll be happy to call ourselves supporters.
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