We had a trip down memory lane and the inside scoop from two innovative
leaders on the most recent Elevate Eldercare episode. Susan interviewed the creator and founder of The Green House Project, Dr. Bill Thomas, MD, and the CEO of Methodist Senior Services (MSS), Steve McAlilly. MSS pioneered the first Green House homes on the campus of Traceway Retirement Community in Tupelo, Miss., in 2003.
It almost didn’t happen at Traceway. MSS had dedicated funds, to the tune of 12 million dollars, to build what would have been a pretty traditional facility. Emboldened by the vision Bill cast, Steve persuaded the board to take a leap of faith. We often talk at Green House about building the bridge as we walk across it. I guess that DNA harkens back to when Traceway “made the mold,” to quote Bill.
Among our favorite questions at Green House are: “Would you have it at home?” and “Would you do it that way at home?” These questions were birthed years ago as the Tupelo team wrestled through what should go into those first homes.
There is this constant pull between Real Home, a Green House core value and an institutionalized way of doing things, which we call institutional creep and often refer to it as the institutional dragon always lurking just outside the home. Bill said, “it is always, always, always easier to do things the usual way…. The pressure to conform to the traditional system is enormous and it never lets up.” But pushing the easy button doesn’t ultimately get us to how Steve describes Green House homes: “a vessel that enables life and living and loving and learning together.”
More than just a history lesson on Green House homes, the conversation moved us to consider how to not waste a pandemic. I love that Steve said, “It is a sin to not do as much as we can as fast as we can; the real sin is apathy. The sin is accepting the status quo and not acting to change it.”
The pandemic has shed a light on long-term care and rather than vilify “traditional” nursing homes we need to seize this moment to do something different. Both Mary and I resonated with what Bill described as, “big house, small life, small house, big life.”
When it comes to the deep knowing of elders, reciprocity, interdependence, building community, and autonomy and control, smaller is better. I think there is opportunity for any long-term care organization to consider how they might take bigger sections of their homes and make them smaller.
On our podcast I got to share one of my favorite books, “Community: The Structure of Belonging” by Peter Block. Whether you work in long-term care, are a part of a church, social group, or a neighborhood, there is application to you. Bottom line—we need to be intentional about creating community. It doesn’t just happen.
In 2008, Block wrote that we live in an age of isolation. That is even more true in this pandemic era. What Thomas, McAlilly, and Block teach us is that we can author a different future for our elders and for ourselves if we seize upon this opportunity to shift the paradigm once again.
For even more insights and takeaways, take a listen to the original interview and then join Mary and me for, “Let Me Say This About That.”
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