By Janet Ozarchuk / Posted on January 22nd, 2018
Where does one begin to describe The Green House difference? There just are not enough superlatives. So how about I start here? I do not believe that my mother would be alive today if she had received care anywhere else.
A Green House home is different, and you know it the minute you see the beautiful building, and step inside. My mother was transported to The Green House homes of Green Hill by ambulance. Both of the EMT personnel were taken aback when they arrived. They thought they were in the wrong place. Surely this was someone’s private home, not skilled nursing!
My mother is 89, petite, and living with dementia. She went to the hospital because she had a swollen tongue, trouble swallowing and they feared she may have had a stroke. She was in the hospital only 4 days and she was so weakened by being confined to a hospital bed that she could no longer walk. The hospital said that she would have to spend the rest of her life on a pureed food diet.
I did my research. I looked at average hours of physical therapy and occupational therapy each day. With every search, The Green House homes at Green Hill, were always at the high end. But here is what numbers cannot capture. My mother has dementia. She drifts in and out of lucidness. So if the physical therapist or the occupational therapist arrived when she was not fully present, they did not force her to participate. (Did you notice that I said that they came to her not that she was brought to them in a sterile “workout” room?) They adjusted to her rhythms and came back when she could most fully participate and best benefit from the therapy. Those statistics do not capture that every staff member of a Green House home is a champion of the elder and takes on whatever role the elder needs in order to help. For example, with my mom, it would have been much easier for them to put her in a wheelchair and wheel her to the bathroom or to the dining table or to the open hearth. But they walked with her. And the statistics don’t count all those minutes that add up to hours… and add up to strength, mobility, dignity, resolve, hope and a desire to get well.
While there may be other “small house” homes, Green House homes are based on an evidence-based set of principles that make a big difference. Therapy in their real home is just one example. Another is that all meals are prepared in the home and the dining room table big enough for all of the elders, staff, and a few guests to have a place. Elders eat when and where they are ready. This really amazed me. Someone was always cooking in the kitchen. Breakfast at 6 am, no problem. Breakfast at Noon, no problem. Breakfast in your room, no problem – but never on a metal tray. Dinner while watching TV in the living room – no problem. Want your eggs soft, over easy, scrambled – no problem. Don’t like what we are having for lunch, how about a sandwich of your choosing. I found that most elders and their caregivers loved eating meals at the big table. We had fun. We supported on another – elders and caregivers and Green House staff. Elders helped elders. Caregivers helped caregivers. If Dorothy’s daughter wasn’t there, I sat next to Dorothy and encouraged her to eat and I know Dorothy’s daughter did they same for me.
As soon as my mother arrived from the hospital with her pureed food order, the speech pathologist at the Green House home questioned that and asked permission to “challenge” my mother with non-pureed food under her supervision. Of course, I agreed. My mom had lost a good deal of weight and we discovered that if food had whipped cream on it, she would eat it. In addition to her meals, the staff surprised her with special treats, healthy snacks topped with whipped cream, and my mother began to enjoy the pleasure of eating once again.
The Green House home at Green Hill have front porches with rocking chairs and back patios with bar-b-qs. There is nothing like fresh air and sunshine to heal the soul…except the joy of a four-legged furry friend. Pets are encouraged to visit or stay.
The Green House staff, the physical, occupational, and speech therapists ,and the nurses and doctors all take great pride in where they work and the care they deliver. They become family quickly, maybe even better than family. They talk about how much they like where they work. A number mentioned that they almost left their profession, being discouraged at traditional facilities. But here they flourished.
My mom was getting better, which brought new risks. She was strong enough to get out of bed on her own, but still unstable on her feet. So when my mom could not sleep and had potential to get up and fall, the nurse invited my mom to sit with her while she did her work. My mother loves helping, and this engaged time enabled her to naturally feel drowsy and go back to bed for a sound sleep. – no medication necessary. Love and caring is the very best medicine of all.
Today, my mother’s wheelchair and walker are gathering dust in the basement and she can eat absolutely everything. Where you receive care really does matter. Green House homes are the very best care that you can get. Anywhere else, I believe that my mother’s spirit would have been crushed, her appetite less than zero, and her strength and ability to walk permanently drained. The current paradigm, sets low expectations for an elder’s potential, and it becomes a self- fulfilling prophecy. Green House homes believe that elder’s are whole people with ability to grow and thrive, and this attitude translates to supporting the best life they can live.
Green House homes have been around for over a decade and we all owe a big thank you to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and their commitment to proving that there is a better way to provide long term care, that is clinically sound and cost effective. The Green House home is just better, it is as simple as that…for the elder, for the family, and for the people who work there. If there is a Green House home where you live and you have someone or you know someone who needs care, go there. If there is a Green House home in your neighborhood and you don’t need their care, stop by. I guarantee you will volunteer there, especially at mealtime. And if there is no Green House home in your neighborhood, make some noise to your elected officials to correct the situation. This is the way health care for elders needs to be, and it is the way we would want it for ourselves! In my state, of New Jersey, there are only two Green House organizations. I count my blessings daily that this was an option for my family, and I hope that one day, everyone will be able to have this same experience.