One of my proudest moments as a Guide for the Penfield Green House homes was when one of the Shahbazim (self-managed team of direct care staff), Wendy, texted me and said “Hurray! We made it!” … I didn’t know what she meant and I was at our legacy building about 20 minutes away so I couldn’t just pop over to clarify the news. The therapeutic recreation specialist for our Green House homes, Mimi, has an office across from me, so I moseyed over to her and asked her if she knew what Wendy could mean? Mimi said “Nope, I don’t know anything.” So, I texted Wendy back and asked her “Made it where? What are you all up to?” She replied, “Check Facebook!”
I didn’t have time to check the site, as I was rushing off to another meeting so it was an hour later before I was able to close the loop. As it turned out, all 10 elders, the Shahbazim and a Nurse were buying grape pies in Naples, NY which is about 2 hours away. The team planned the whole thing, scheduled the van, grabbed the credit card, and even got the other House to come over and check on Lexi, the house dog, because this was her first time on her own. On their way home, they stopped for lunch, and enjoyed the iconic fall scenery in upstate NY. It was beautiful, well executed, and neither the “boss” or “activities” knew anything about it.
It’s another first for The Green House Project, as Missouri is welcomed into the list of innovative states to offer a Real Home to elders who need skilled care. The Cottages of Lake St. Louis, located in the western suburbs of St. Louis, opened the first of six cottages in January 2017. Now, residents of the “Show-Me” state will get to see firsthand what skilled nursing looks like when its designed — from the inside out — to be a home.
Al Beamer, CEO of the Cottages of Lake St. Louis, says people are struck by how different the community is from a traditional nursing home before they even step inside.
“When people think about nursing homes, they expect to see a large facility designed to house hundreds of residents,” says Beamer. Instead, the Cottages of Lake St. Louis is six cottages built alongside one another on a residential street. Each cottage is a stand-alone home that houses only 10 elders. “What surprises them most is that Green House homes are truly homes,” continues Beamer. “We are very deliberate in saying each cottage is a home — not ‘like a home.’”
This means no medicine carts rattling down long hallways, no big lights flashing above residents’ rooms, no large institutional kitchens and dining areas. In a word, the Cottages are “cozy.” Each elder has a private bed and bath. This supports their dignity and privacy — but privacy does not mean isolation.
Relationships are at the core of Green House communities. “There’s one big kitchen table in each cottage, so everyone eats together,” says Christie Tutschulte, vice president of care management for the Cottages of Lake St. Louis. This encourages the natural social interactions that happen around a family table. The elders in each cottage decide what they want to eat, and they see their meals prepared in an open kitchen so they can enjoy the smells and sounds of a busy kitchen.
The focus on relationships extends to those between the staff and the elders. A small, self-managed team of educated, universal caregivers is dedicated to caring for the elders in each cottage. Because this team works in only one cottage, they get to know their elders on a personal level. This helps them see health changes and reasons for concern much sooner than in a traditional nursing home, allowing for earlier interventions and better health outcomes.
In many ways, each cottage is its own little family — and this is exactly how this family owned and operated business wants it.
Al Beamer and his wife, Kathy, are the CEO and chief financial officer, respectively. Their daughter, Christie, is vice president of care management, and son, Matt, is vice president of operations.
Christie, who graduated with a master’s in Gerontology, says living in the community makes opening the Cottages of Lake St. Louis personal for her and her family, “Our kids go to school here, we go to church here, we have built our home and our lives here — and we really want to make a difference in our community.”
Family is so important to the business that five of the six cottages are named after the Beamer’s grandchildren: Ava, Ella, Grace, Harper and Kris.
“When it came to naming the cottages, my husband, Al, and I hit upon an idea that we feel really speaks to the ideals that we are trying to provide for our elders and our family,” Kathy explains. “We believe that it is important to build relationships across the generations, and to value the gifts within each of us. In this spirit, we chose to name each cottage after one of our five grandchildren and the sixth cottage to honor the late mother of our director of development.”
As with all Green House communities, you won’t find any of the institutional markers of a traditional nursing home in the Cottages of Lake St. Louis — yet they still meet all state regulations for skilled nursing facilities. In fact, the Cottages provide a much better nurse to elder ratio. While state regulations require skilled nursing facilities to provide 208 nurse hours per 60 elders per week, the Cottages of Lake St. Louis will provide more than 500 nurse hours per 60 elders per week.
The Cottages of Lake St. Louis are opening gradually. The first two of the six cottages have opened, and the remaining four will open by the end of March. This staggered opening is intentional, says Christie, “We are so excited to welcome our first elders, but we want to do it right and get to know each person.”
To learn more about the Cottages of Lake St. Louis, visit www.cottageslsl.com or call 636-614-3510.