Innovation is thriving in Upstate New York

By / Posted on June 4th, 2015

Rob Simonetti has worked with multiple Green House organizations to create real homes where where elders live meaningful lives.  In this article, he highlights the innovation found in upstate NY, and The Green House model as a catalyst for significant social change.  

robSenior Housing providers are leaving industry standards behind to forge a culture of person centered care unseen in other areas of the US.
by Robert Simonetti, AIA, Design Director at SWBR Architects, 585-232-8300, rsimonetti@swbr.com

Call it a hot bed of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit; Upstate New York senior care providers are establishing new standards and models of care well ahead of many other communities. Care providers are ensuring all New Yorkers a very bright future as the industry comes to terms with an antiquated system of institutional care.

Senior care providers from Albany to Buffalo are breaking new ground and setting standards for the remainder of the nation to follow. As early as 1999 Fairport Baptist Home was one of the first adopters of the household model of skilled nursing care and quickly became a precedent and resource for other nursing homes seeking to transform their environments for care. The Eddy Village Green at Cohoes was the first adopter in New York of the Green House model. With sixteen homes of 12 elders each The Eddy has become a training center for other Green House adopters nationally.

In 2007 St. John’s Home embarked on a project to bring The Green House model of care to twenty of their Skilled Nursing elders. When St. John’s approached the NYS Department of Health, the state challenged St. John’s to not just build Green House homes, but to build them away from their existing campus in the City of Rochester. St. John’s accepted the challenge and in February of 2012 opened two Green House homes in Penfield, the first in the nation to build off campus in a new residential town home community. The homes which blend right in with their st. johns exteriorsurroundings have become some of the favorites of The Green House Project Senior Director Susan Frazier. “The difference between these homes and other Green House homes is palpable.” says Frazier. Operated on the concepts of person centered care and an empowered work force, the homes have achieved a 5 Star rating, the highest possible in the industry.

The private sector providers are not the only ones being innovative in Upstate; the Department of Veterans Affairs has adopted a new model for the veterans they serve. In Canandaigua plans are complete for ten skilled cottages based on the VA’s new Community Living Center principles. Since construction in the 1930’s veterans residing on campus have lived in very institutional H shaped buildings with double loaded corridors, small double, triple and quad occupancy rooms. The cottages are planned entirely as fully accessible one story homes with single occupancy rooms, private baths, safe outdoor courtyards, strong connections to the outdoors, and beautiful dining, kitchen, and living rooms. While being review in Washington, VAMC Central Office Architect Dan Colagrande noted that this new campus design “should become a national standard for our other VA campuses”.

With such excellence being set as a standard, other upstate providers are following suite to provide elders the best possible environments of care. In Scotia, Baptist Health has sixteen new small homes under construction. In Cicero, Loretto has just opened twelve new homes offering skilled nursing care. These homes and the neighborhood are modeled completely after a true residential neighborhood. The Rochester Presbyterian Home is starting construction on four new Memory Care Assisted Living Small homes in Perinton to compliment four they are operating in Chili. And in Brighton, the Jewish Home is embarking on an ambitious plan to build fourteen certified Green House homes to replace their aging legacy high-rise skilled nursing building.

Why Upstate New York? What’s behind our providers leading the industry? Upstate NY has historically been a leader in the Culture Change movement. Rochester is where the Pioneer Network was founded. A small group of prominent professionals in long-term care formed Pioneer Network in 1997 to advocate for person-directed care. The Network has grown significantly and is now a national resource headquartered in Chicago.

While working in an Upstate nursing home Dr. Bill Thomas founded The Eden Alternative; an international, non-profit organization dedicated to creating quality of life for Elders and their care partners. Recognizing three plights of the elderly in institutional nursing homes, Boredom, Loneliness, and Helplessness, Thomas sought to improve the well- being of Elders and their care partners by transforming the communities in which they live and work. Thomas, residing in Ithaca, has become an internationally recognized leader in the culture change movement and The Eden Alternative is headquartered in Rochester.

The legacy of innovation and advancement in the areas of senior care is growing in Upstate New York. Our providers, physicians, and educators are leaders and valuable resources to this rapidly changing industry. The St. John’s Green House homes have hosted visitors from around the country and as far as Iceland and New Zealand. The staff and administrator of the homes have become ambassadors of the culture change movement, encouraging, motivating, and educating others on the benefits of committing deeply to the ideals of person centered care and the Green House model.

The environments being developed here in Upstate are exemplary and promise each of us a bright future as we consider care options for our grandparents, our parents, and ourselves. Rest assured New Yorkers, when you decide to seek care, you will not find yesterday’s nursing home, rather you will find a true home filled with opportunities, committed staff, and an enlightened value of elderhood.