Long Term Care, A New Spin on an Old Approach

long term care

Dr. William Thomas’ name has been circulating in the long term care (LTC) industry for the past 20+ years. He’s the creator of The Eden Alternative® (EA) whose mission is to eliminate loneliness, helplessness, and boredom in LTC facilities by creating communities that revolve around close and continuing contact with plants, animals and children to heighten quality of life for all.

Beth Baker—author of “Old Age in a New Age: The Promise of Transformative Nursing Homes” and “With a Little Help from Our Friends: Creating Community as We Grow Older”—explains that Dr. Thomas eventually grew frustrated. “Because a lot of these homes were adopting the Eden Alternative as if it were a new marketing term. They did not make the deep transformations they had to undergo within their organizations. They were sticking a few birds in cages and letting a cat walk through, and saying, ‘We’re Eden,’ but everything else was the same. So he came to believe that these homes were so deeply flawed that you couldn’t patch them up with The Eden Alternative. He had to totally re-think it. And then he created The Green House.” The Ithaca, NY geriatrician considers himself an ‘abolitionist’ when it comes to traditional nursing homes.

The Green House, Baker explains, “reimagines everything (in a LTC facility) from what the space looks like to what a person’s day is like, to the role of what we have thought of as CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants), but what Dr. Thomas calls shahbazim, which means royal falcon in Persian. The idea is that shahbazim are there, not to do particular tasks like so many baths, and so many meals, but to really make each elder’s day as pleasant and meaningful as possible.”

And the benefits started to not only improve the lives of the residents, but those of the shahbazim, as well. They began to have more self-respect and job satisfaction than the CNAs at traditional nursing homes.

Shahbazim are given a lot of authority. They run the households on behalf of the elders. They act as housekeepers, cooks, direct caregivers and also defenders of the people who live in the house.”

Many of the shahbazim grew up on fast food and never learned to cook, adds Baker, but now, part of their added training was to prepare three home-cooked meals a day. “So the homes always smell good and the kitchens are open. They’re not dominated by fear. By that I mean ‘oh, Mrs. Jones will burn the place down’ or ‘somebody will fall.’ Not that these aren’t concerns, but there is a freedom in these places and you just sense this deep well of affection among everyone.”

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About Tobi Schwartz-Cassell

Tobi Schwartz-Cassell is an award-winning writer, and owner of Franks & Beans Communications. She specializes in blogging, email marketing, brochures, web content, feature articles and events. In 2007, Tobi founded Girlfriendz Magazine, a niche publication devoted to Baby Boomer Women. She also co-authored the book “Adding Value to Long-Term Care (Jossey-Bass/Wiley),” and has written numerous articles for long-term care trade journals. She can be reached at [email protected]

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