Green House Project aims to revolutionize elderly care
4/23/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
NOTE: Photographs are available with this story.
By Woody Woodrick*
Rabig stands in the kitchen of a Green House facility for the aged in
Tupelo, Miss., to teach "shahbazim," or universal workers, about the
operation of the new concept in care for frail elders. The Green House
Project takes people out of hospital-like nursing homes and places them
in an innovative type of group home. The first Green House in the nation
is scheduled to open on the campus of Traceway Retirement Community in
Tupelo. It is operated by United Methodist Senior Services of
Mississippi Inc. A UMNS photo by Woody Woodrick. Photo number 03-154,
Accompanies UMNS #239, 4/23/03
No Long Caption Available for this Story
McAlilly, president of United Methodist Senior Services of Mississippi
Inc., stands in front of a group home for the aged called the Green
House Project, in Tupelo, Miss. The concept revolves around a facility
built specifically for elders that creates a home atmosphere, McAlilly
says. . A UMNS photo by Woody Woodrick. Photo number 03-153,
Accompanies UMNS #239, 4/23/03
No Long Caption Available for this Story
TUPELO, Miss. (UMNS) - Plants bloom and thrive in
the warmth and light of a greenhouse, and developers of the Green House
Project, a groundbreaking system of care for America's elderly, hope the
first-ever Green House is a place where the aged can also bloom.
Methodist Senior Services of Mississippi Inc. will open the first Green
House in the nation May 2 on the Traceway Retirement Community campus.
convinced society is reflected in how we treat our elders," says Steve
McAlilly, president and chief executive officer of UM Senior Services.
"The whole country is watching this project. A lot of organizations are
waiting to see how this goes. I'm grateful our board had the vision and
courage to step out."
The Green House Project moves away from the
institutional model of nursing homes and borrows from the highly
successful group-home model used with troubled teens.
revolves around a facility built specifically for elders that creates a
"home" atmosphere. The core of the small homes is a common living room,
complemented by a large, open kitchen, lots of windows and other
amenities. The 10 residents may bring their own furniture, including
pieces for the living room. Meals will be cooked in the home, and all
will eat together around a family-style table.
McAlilly and Dr.
Bill Thomas, a United Methodist and founder of the Eden Alternative,
helped develop the Green House Project, along with members of Thomas'
organization. The New York-based Eden Alternative is a system of elder
care designed for retirement communities. UM Senior Services, a
self-supporting agency affiliated with the Mississippi Annual
Conference, has adopted the Eden Alternative for all of its facilities.
Eden Alternative is a philosophy that seeks to change the environment
of today's nursing homes and other long-term care institutions by making
life better for those who live and work there. Its core principle is
that housing units for the elderly must be habitats for human beings,
not sterile medical institutions. The Eden Alternative is dedicated to
eliminating the loneliness, helplessness and boredom that make life
intolerable in many nursing homes.
involved in the Green House Project wanted to find a better way to care
for frail elders, or people who need skilled nursing assistance.
McAlilly says the idea grew out of numerous conversations over a period
"We conceived the idea of a small home for elders that
provides as much of the things of a home as possible," he says. "This
home will be state-of-the-art technologically and will provide all the
services of a nursing home but in ways not offered before."
Senior Services has four units under construction, with the first
scheduled to start receiving residents May 2-3. Plans call for
eventually moving all 140 residents of the Cedars nursing home on the
Traceway Retirement Community campus into Green Houses, McAlilly says.
Rabig, executive director of the Green House Project, spent a week in
Mississippi training those who will work in the homes. Actively involved
in nursing home reform for many years, Rabig says she's excited about
the possibilities of the Green House Project.
"There are only two
groups we consistently institutionalize for life - murderers and frail
elders. Everyone else can eventually get out of an institution," she
says. "There is no reason why frail elders can't live in a home like
Watching the training, the amount of thought that went
into how the homes will operate is evident. Rabig points out to the 10
or so "shahbazim," as the universal workers of the Green Houses are
called, that when they smell something cooking, they probably get
hungry. The same is true for elders. By cooking the meals in the homes,
residents are more likely to become hungry and eat better. The fact
they've helped plan the menus should also be a plus.
All of the
workers have experience in nursing homes. Rabig spent time showing them
techniques for dealing with everyday issues that allow the elders to
maintain their dignity, yet still receive the care they need.
example, while discussing dementia, Rabig had a shahbaz play the role
of an elder trying to communicate a need. Rabig pointed out how
traditional nursing homes usually handle the situation and how it should
be handled in a Green House.
"This is a step in the right
direction," says Matt Belue, a shahbaz. "If we do our jobs, we're both
better off. We will have more one-on-one time and be better able to
nurture, sustain and protect (the elders)."
likes the idea of residents having more control over their own lives.
"At a nursing home, they can't make their own decisions. We have to
decide," she says. "Here, we let them make decisions."
likes the fact that she will get to know the residents better than in a
traditional nursing home. "We'll take care of them every day," she says.
"We can become a family together."
The shahbazim will have more
input into residents' care, she notes, contrasting that with nursing
homes, where nurses usually make all the decisions. By being in close
contact with a small group of elders, a shahbaz will be able to make
better decisions, she says.
The workers will be a mix of current
UM Senior Services employees and newcomers, McAlilly says. UM Senior
Services looked for those with a commitment to elder care, he says. All
workers are certified nurses' aides.
Other homes planned
Green House Project has attracted interest from elder care groups
around the United States. Thomas was able to secure a grant that has
paid for the shahbazim training, and leading researchers in the field
are already studying the project.
Dr. Rosalie A. Kane, an expert
on quality-of-life issues for the aging, is leading a team of
researchers exploring the concept. The team will watch the development
of Green Houses from various perspectives, including those of health and
social services personnel in the community and state. In addition, it
wants to gain knowledge from the experiences of seniors living in the
Green Houses, their families and those who provide care.
lessons learned from the planning and implementation of the Green House
concept in Tupelo will be applied to similar projects across the nation.
Besides additional Green Houses in Tupelo, others are planned for
Nebraska and Michigan. Tabitha Health Care Services, owned by the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, will operate one in Lincoln,
Neb., and local government will operate another one in Powers, Mich.
of the initial Green House buildings is about 6,000 square feet and
cost about $480,000 to build. UM Senior Services already owned the land.
Green House Project addresses a key problem in the structure of nursing
homes today, providing treatment to people in a setting governed by
strict routines," Kane says. "The Green House is designed to provide
that same care and treatment for people in a normal, home-like setting.
It will be exciting to see the concept become a reality."
Green House developers have been creative in meeting state requirements
without taking away the "homey" feel, McAlilly says. Certain telltale
signs of a nursing home, such as a nurse's station, have been moved
behind closed doors. Lights over each door that signal assistance is
needed have been incorporated into the design.
will wear a small transmitter that, when pressed, will signal a nurse.
Response time should be no more than five minutes - about standard in a
nursing home, McAlilly says. While shahbazim will serve a single home,
nurses will rotate among several.
Once Senior Services decided to
embrace the Green House Project, a presentation to the Mississippi
Department of Health was necessary. McAlilly says the state requires
nursing care facilities to meet 114 criteria.
Cedars residents and their families has been mostly positive, McAlilly
says. Some are taking a wait-and-see approach, while others are
enthusiastic, he says.
"I've never had anyone call and say they
wanted to move into a nursing home until they had to," McAlilly says.
"Every time a story about the Green Houses is in the paper, we get calls
from people asking to move in."
Much of the landscaping is being
left to the residents. They will choose plants for inside and outside,
where a fenced patio area has room for a small flower garden. Those who
are able will be encouraged to take part in planting. Members of the
Master Gardener program at Mississippi State University will assist
Standing on the cusp of a groundbreaking project is heady
stuff, but McAlilly hasn't forgotten the first two words in his
organization's name - United Methodist.
"I'm proud of the United
Methodist Church because of its support for, honor and respect of
elders, and its ability 35 years ago to see the need to provide meaning
and abundant life to elders," says McAlilly, the son and brother of
United Methodist clergy.
"When we do what we do, it is because of
the church. Our organization believes it is called by God and the
church to be at the forefront of providing meaning and quality of life
More information on the Green House Project is available at http://thegreenhouseproject.com/ online. # # # *Woodrick
is editor of the Mississippi United Methodist Advocate, the newspaper
of the United Methodist Church's Mississippi Annual Conference.