Green House Blog

The Green House Pioneers of Alaska

Seward Mountain Haven

As the only Green House homes in Alaska, we love sharing our story, and our passion for The Green House model’s Core Values of Real Home, Meaningful Life and Empowered Staff. When visitors come to Seward Mountain Haven they are struck not only by the beautiful view, but also by the feeling they have when they step inside our homes. The feeling is immediate and visceral. It’s family. Many people still expect to see the traditional institution and it gives me so much pleasure to be a part of changing that expectation.

I can’t tell you how many times visitors have joked with me, saying, “Sign me up! This is where I want to be!” They are joking but in reality they are saying, “Yes! This is what Long Term Care should be!”

Brittany and her colleagues from Seward Mt. Haven smile with Dr. Bill Thomas at the Green House Annual Meeting

It is easy to focus on the day to day challenges, and sometimes we have to remind each other, our team, to step back and notice the incredible work that we are doing. If we just let that sink in for a few minutes…it is SO powerful.

We are proud to be a pioneer in The Green House movement. The peer network that we are building nationally, enables us to share our successes and lessons learned with developing Green House homes and to gain insights from Green House organizations around the country. There is power in knowing that we are a part of something that is bigger than ourselves, and that we share this calling to better the lives elders every day.

I joined The Green House team at Providence Seward Mountain Haven January 2011 as a social worker. During my education, I never saw myself going into eldercare, and my road to The Green HouDSCN2761se homes was happenstance. I joined the team because I wanted to be a part of something innovative; I wanted to be a part of a group that was making a difference. I never would have imagined how much my decision to work in a Green House home would affect me. I am pushed to grow, learn and continually challenge my thinking… this opportunity is much more than just a job.

One of my most memorable experiences in The Green House homes was when I was pregnant with my son. Because we have such close relationships with the elders, they naturally wanted to stay informed of all the details, and to also share their pregnancy and birth experiences with me. As it got closer to my delivery date their excitement and anticipation grew, and when he finally came, we all celebrated the arrival of THEIR baby! This experience really drove home the fact that we really care about each other here. The elders are just as invested in us as we are in them and that is a feeling you only get in a Green House home. It’s very special.

Creative Storytelling…A Magic Time for Elders and Staff

For the past 3 years Brittany Swanson has been a Social Worker for four Green House homes – Providence Seward Mountain Haven, in AlaskaBrittany began her journey in Social Work in 2003 at the University of Hawaii, but returned to her home state of Alaska to complete her Bachelors in Social Work.  She has been a licensed Social Worker since 2010, and began working with the Providence Seward Mountain Haven Green House homes in January 2011.  Brittany is quick to express how grateful she is for the opportunity to work in the homes, and believes it has pushed her further in her career than she ever expected!

My first experience with TimeSlips® was during a training provided by the Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska at our Green House home. My co-workers and I were abuzz with excitement as we all met in Raven Lodge to assist the facilitator with the session. Our staff and Elders gathered around the dining table and were warmly welcomed to the storytelling session. We were handed the same black and white image; a bald, chubby baby sitting in an empty brief case.  What ensued was pure magic. The smiles and laughter began immediately as our Elders shared their thoughts and ideas composing their very own story. Every idea was included and there were absolutely no wrong answers. Even a dispute among the Elders was incorporated into the story when asked “What do we want to call him?”

“His name is Harry.”  “No, it’s Bill.” “He looks like a Frank to me!”

Approximately 2 hours later I was begging my supervisor to fund my training to become a certified facilitator so I could bring these storytelling sessions to Seward Mountain Haven on a regular basis. She kindly obliged and I celebrated.

As Green House staff, we are well versed in meaningful life engagement, but the benefits I saw in using TimeSlips were unlike any other activity I have experienced.  As a Green House Social Worker I often find we welcome new Elders to Seward Mountain Haven and discover they feel a lack in their ability to contribute anything of “value” to society. It is not uncommon as we age to sense we have lost our social roles as a lifelong teacher, parent or fisherman for example.  TimeSlips can fill that social role by allowing the Elder to become the storyteller in a safe environment and provide that sense of contribution and value once again. Our Elders are proud of their TimeSlips stories and revel in pride as we read them in their entirety.  

Anyone can become a certified facilitator for the TimeSlips method by completing an online course which teaches the history and development of the program, as well as how to implement it with Elders in varying stages of dementia. Once you complete your course, you can practice TimeSlips with your Elders and submit your completed stories to a Certified Master Trainer for review. A time is then set to complete an assessment interview to verify you understand the method and are confident in its implementation. Then you are good to go! TimeSlips works best with Elders who are in the mid to late stages of dementia, as these stages allow for the creation of an environment of open creativity. Elders who are in the early stages of dementia may become hung up on the “facts” and feel silly about making up a story they don’t know.

One of our goals at Seward Mountain Haven is to educate our community on dementia and continue to break down stereotypes and stigmas associated with nursing homes. In effort to do so, we created beautiful poster-size TimeSlips to display at the annual Seward Music and Arts Festival. The community was able to enjoy reading our Elder’s stories which sparked interest in other organizations to learn about the method and the benefits of the program’s implementation. In the near future, we hope to begin intergenerational projects between our Elders and local elementary school students using the TimeSlips method. We intend to make TimeSlips a regularly scheduled event at Seward Mountain Haven, so come join us anytime!