A week has passed since Ted Donsky moved into his “real home” at the Jewish Senior Life campus, and still he is speechless.
“I’ll tell you, I can’t talk,” said the 94-year-old resident of Jewish Senior Life’s Green House cottage home. “You know what it’s like? It’s like fantasy world, really.”
The first residents moved from the Jewish Home tower last week; another group moved this week, and the final residents will move into the cottages Oct. 2. A total of 108 residents—36 per cottage—will fill the brand new, spacious living spaces.
The cottages represent a new standard in senior living, one that gives elders a more meaningful life, empowers staff and creates a real home for residents.
“It really isn’t ‘home-like,’” said Susan Ryan, senior director of the Green House Project, a national nonprofit dedicated to creating alternative living environments to traditional nursing home care facilities. “I think nursing homes for a while got ‘home-like’ and we got better. But it’s really establishing a real home so that you or I would feel comfortable being here.”
Each of Jewish Senior Life’s cottages has three floors with 12 residents per floor, or home. Residents have private rooms with built-in wardrobes and entertainment centers, and the home furnishes flat-screen televisions.
Unlike at most nursing homes, each room has its own bathroom, complete with a European-style shower that can be accessed easily by those in wheelchairs, private medicine cabinets, grab bars and a heat lamp. Other comfort and accessibility features within residents’ rooms include nurse call systems, a ceiling lift above the bed and a dedicated area at each room’s entrance for medicines and other supplies, hidden behind locked cupboard doors.
“We’re really working on deinstitutionalizing the nursing home,” said Jewish Senior Life President and CEO Michael King. “So medical equipment, med carts, we’re trying to get them out of our sight. There will be no med carts around.”
From the secured front door of each home—which features technology that allows aides to see who is visiting before allowing them into the home—a visitor can see the open concept of the common space, including a family room, dining area and large kitchen.
The 12 residents’ rooms are located on the perimeter of each floor so that each resident has an abundance of natural lighting. Common space is easily accessible at the center of the cottages.
Each floor, or 10,000-square-foot home, features a large family room with a television, gas fireplace and book shelves. Down the hall is a den, complete with a television, chairs and a sofa with a pull-out bed for visitors. A full bathroom is located next to the den.
A large kitchen features an induction stove with a timer so that residents—who are allowed to cook their own meals if they want to—will not get burned. Separating the kitchen from the dining area is a large breakfast bar where residents can eat or sit and chat.
The oversized dining table was a conscious decision on the part of Jewish Senior Life staff, King said.
“We really want our residents to all eat together. We call it convivium, where everyone sits together,” he explained. “Remember the days when you’d sit around with your mom and your dad and you’d talk about your day? This is the idea.”
Staff is encouraged to sit and eat with residents as well, King added.
Each home has its own four-season porch with lots of natural light, a feature that resident Jewel Stein already has used.
“I think it’s gorgeous,” Stein said of her new home, describing the décor as Art Deco. “This is going to be a highlight of this area. It couldn’t be nicer.”
The homes also feature laundry rooms and med rooms so that most activities of day-to-day living can be completed right there. As part of the Green House Project, staffers take on a holistic approach to care, which means that certified nurse assistants will serve as caregivers, as well as cook, clean and do laundry.
The empowered staff core value of the Green House Project gives residents autonomy and control of their lives, Ryan said.
“Typically, CNAs have had the least amount of power, support, resources and the ability to make decisions, to really support that resident to live his or her life,” Ryan explained. “And so this flattens the hierarchy. It gives a voice to that direct care team who now work in a self-managed way.
“When I know what you like to eat I am better able to serve you and to really help you have a better life,” she added.
Jewish Senior Life has three universal workers during the day and two in the evening, as well as one overnight. These individuals previously were called CNAs but are now specially trained to take on other responsibilities. Each one is called an Adir, or “strong one” in Hebrew.
Each cottage has five nurses and one registered nurse assigned to it that are shared among the three homes, or floors of the building, and also rotate on a shift basis. Jewish Senior Life needed to fill more than 80 full-time positions in order to properly staff the new homes. They did a mix of internal and external recruitment, though most positions were filled internally.
King calculates that the organization has spent more than 15,000 hours in training over the last year and a half and is paying its cottage home staff more because of the increased skills involved.
“This is really a paradigm shift in the way we’re providing care,” King said. “It was very emotional for us. It really hits home when the residents come over.”
The Green House Project was founded by geriatrician William Thomas in 2003. He was seeing a nursing home resident who had a rash and was going to prescribe cream for her when she reached over, grabbed his sleeve and said, “I’m so lonely.”
“He said, I need more than a prescription for a cream for her for her arm,” Ryan said. “He embarked on a journey to say it’s got to be better.”
Thomas founded the Eden Alternative—with 10 principles for care—that was designed to bring life, meaning and purpose into the sterile, institutional environments that nursing homes often were known for.
“That was going well, but he realized those buildings were aging more quickly than the people living in them,” Ryan explained. “And he said, if you were going to rebuild, what would the ideal environment be for those principles to really be actualized? And he came up with the Green House model, which comprehensively is really changing life as we’ve ever known it for those in need of nursing home care.”
Jewish Home senior vice president and administrator Michele Schirano noted that there is a resident waiting list for both the tower facility and the new cottages.
“We’re going to be remodeling the tower and we’re starting that in October,” Schirano said. “So you’ll have all private rooms, all private beds in the tower as well.”
That project, which will be similar to the cottages but house 22 individuals per floor, is expected to be completed in March 2019, she said.
For Donsky, who is enthralled by having his own on-suite bathroom and has gained an independence he did not have before, his new home has “wonderful zen” and makes him feel like a “multi-millionaire.”
“I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful it is. I wake up to a fantasy,” Donsky said. “My favorite part? The whole thing.”
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