September 29, 2004

Green Houses

"Boomers have revolutionized music, food, fashion, childbirth and sex. Finally, they are on to something important. Nursing homes. " writes Lenore Skenazy of the New York Daily News.

Ronni Bennett looks at the numbers and says the Hilton Inn is less expensive than a nursing home in Let's Retire to the Hilton. Some of my favorite college memories center around the dining rooms and meals at the houses at Smith College. So much was it a part of the experience of being at Smith that any attempts to change it were always met by howls of the alumnae. I thought this would be a great way to grow older - friends living together, each with a private space, taking turns to prepare meals to enjoy together and lots of good conversation.

Green Houses sound a lot like that. The Green House project

From Lenore's piece

    “I aim to close every nursing home in America,” says geriatrician William Thomas, 44. “And I have 77 million allies. (Boomers) are going to resist being institutionalized on a massive scale.....
    “Residents are expected to surrender autonomy and personal dignity in return for their reliance on the staff,” Thomas writes in his electrifying new book, What Are Old People For? No wonder the residents get depressed. But what's the alternative?

    Frat houses. Or, as Thomas calls them, Green Houses. Same deal (minus the kegs): A group of people choosing to share a house and the activities of everyday life.

    Rather than “getting services” — the nursing home goal — the Green House goal is “convivium,” Thomas says: relishing good food with good friends. In fact, the whole day is organized around preparing meals.

    In Tupelo, Miss., you can see his first 13 Green Houses, which cost no more to run than a traditional institution. They’ve been up for 18 months, filled with former residents of a nursing home that was torn down to give Thomas' plan a try.

    “We liberated them!” Thomas says of the more than 100 elders. “And one of the first things we had to do was run out to the store for sun hats!” Some of the residents hadn’t been outside in years.

    Even though 80 percent of the elders have Alzheimer's, it's clear they are living a much better life.

    “One woman,” says Jude Rabig, the project director, “makes her cornbread once a week.” In another Green House, seven of the 10 residents used wheelchairs when they arrived. Today, only three do. It's easier to walk when you don't have to travel long corridors.

    The elders spend their days breaking bread, celebrating when they can and mourning when they must. In other words, they live a human life. As revolutions go, this is one we've all been waiting for.

Posted by Jill Fallon at September 29, 2004 10:15 AM | Permalink