Dr. Bill Thomas recently spoke to a group in England about the potential to change the way “aging” is viewed in society. Below is a reflection from Sarah McKee, the Chief Operating Officer of the organization who received Dr. Thomas’ wisdom
Sara McKee, Chief Operating Officer, Anchor
Nothing less than a radical transformation of the way we care for older people is needed if we are to meet the challenges of the 21st century. So I’m incredibly excited to be working with Dr Bill Thomas as we focus on creating happy living for older people in England.
With 100 care homes and around 900 retirement housing properties in either ownership or management, Anchor is England’s largest not-for-profit provider of housing and care to older people. We provide services to more than 40,000 customers and we’re thrilled to be working with Dr Thomas as we evolve to meet changing needs, expectations and demographics.
It’s not news that the population is ageing but the scale is truly remarkable. For example, figures released for International Older People’s Day (1 October) by the Office for National Statistics revealed that the number of centenarians in the UK has seen a five-fold increase in the last 30 years. The major contribution to the rising number of centenarians is increased survival between the age of 80 and 100 due to improved medical treatment, housing and living standards, and nutrition during their lifetime.
These changing demographics require a different approach. It was somehow appropriate that Dr Thomas visited the UK to speak at an Anchor conference on 11/01/11, as many colleagues went away feeling that his visit had marked a new start in the way we care for older people. At the event, Dr Thomas spoke to colleagues from Anchor locations across England about The Green House project, which is reinventing care homes in America.
The Green House Project creates small communities for groups of older people and staff to focus on living full and vibrant lives. The model is a radical departure from traditional care homes. It is based around households of seven to 10 older people, supported by a ‘Shahbaz’, a versatile worker who provides a wide range of assistance including personal care, activities, meals and laundry.
Dr Thomas stressed at the event that, while building design played a part in the concept, the important difference from traditional homes was in the way individuals work with the older people. He stressed the importance of building relationships, really understanding older people’s needs and helping them to be meaningfully occupied – playing a full part in the way the home runs.
“Ageing is not primarily about decline,” he told the attendees, stressing that enabling older people to play an important part in the way a home is run helps them remain independent and happy.
At Anchor, we’re doing a great deal of work to ensure we really understand the individual life stories of our customers, so we can provide really person-centred care. But I know that we’re just getting started with the transformation that’s needed. Even Dr Bill, who has decades of experience, still calls himself a “beginner”.
Dr Thomas stressed that regulators in the US had been persuaded of the merits of his approach when they saw the positive outcomes for older people. I’m confident that regulators in the UK will take the same view. And while it had been challenging at first, perseverance had paid off. “All you have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep learning and growing,” he told attendees.
Attendees then broke into smaller groups to discuss how the approach could apply both in existing Anchor care homes and in new homes that we plan to build.
At Anchor, we are embarking on exciting development plans for new properties across the south of England, as part of our drive to grow the organisation. The properties will be developed by 2015 and we have been seeking sites on which to develop retirement villages, care homes and smaller extra-care properties.
Starting with a blank sheet of paper gives us an exciting opportunity to develop something completely new and we’re doing just that with West Hall, our exciting new development being constructed in Surrey. We are also keen to develop our thinking in our existing care homes and there are small, incremental things that can be implemented today in every care home in the world which would make a real difference to older people.
Dr Thomas has been an inspiration. I’m excited to be working with him, as I know are my colleagues across Anchor. What really resonated for me after his visit is the passion it inspired in our people to change ageing – and deliver new ways of making older people happy.