On May 30, The Green House Project, in partnership with The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, hosted a groundbreaking policy event at the newly opened Green House Residences at Stadium Place. As the first Green House project in the state of Maryland, the proximity of Stadium Place afforded an opportunity for more than 70 national leaders in government, aging and long-term care to see the homes firsthand and launch a national conversation about how to make Green House homes a choice in every community.
With the support of Green House program experts, adopters, and researchers, the event served as an opportunity for education about the unique elements of the Green House model and the positive, evidence-based outcomes of the cultural and environmental transformation. Following a discussion of early results from emerging consumer research and a new pilot study on Medicare and Medicaid cost savings, Don Redfoot, Strategic Policy Advisor of AARP, noted that, “the Green House model demonstrates that you don’t have to have an institutional model to provide a high-level of care.”
Perhaps most inspiring was the testimonial of Ann Frohman, granddaughter of former Green House elder, Mary Valentine. Ann demonstrated how her grandmother “sprouted wings” while living in the Green House homes in Lincoln, NE. Through Anne’s reflections, the need was validated for continued collaboration and conversations about ways in which to impact elders nationwide through growth of the Green House movement.
Contribution by Ann Frohman, granddaughter of Mary Valentine
Mary Valentine was a tiny, elegant red-headed woman who surrounded herself with beauty. She was a lady of fashion and style. She loved the opera, flowers, poetry, French Impressionist art, the warmth of a home surrounded by family and friends. She was humble and appreciative of all life had given her, an eternal optimist, never sad or discouraged. She made others at ease. She was the nicest person I have ever known.
Mary, a register nurse, was married to Lyn Valentine, a medical doctor. He preceded her in death by some thirty years. After his death Mary worked at a nursing home. Fiercely independent, she worked until she was seventy years old. By the time she entered a nursing home in her mid 90’s, she was well aware of what was in store.
When Mary entered the nursing home she was partially blind and very hard of hearing. Yet, her fragile body denied her age as she would speed around the halls and outside with a red walker leading the way. She was social. Her mind and spirit were sharp and she enjoyed people. Still, the nursing home was not where she wanted to be.
One time on a visit, Mary was sitting on her bed doing leg lifts. At 97 years old, I asked why the effort? She said she needed to keep her strength up to walk. This made sense as she had experienced several falls while there. Surprisingly, she confided that she intended to get out of the nursing home and she knew she wouldn’t if she was unable to walk.
As days went by, we watched the light that had shined so brightly all her life began to dim. She quit her leg lifts. She spent much of her time sleeping because there was nowhere to go. Fewer friends visited. My daughter played violin in the hallway as there was no place in her room. There was no piano for my other daughter. We were always in the hallway. Finally, I couldn’t take it. I complained to management, not about her care, which was good, but about the facility design and nonsense rules.
I later learned that my complaint was a watershed moment. The nursing home wanted to do more and be more. When Mary was 98 years of age, she did in fact walk out of the nursing home- she moved across the street into the Green House.
It was amazing how suddenly, her life mattered again. Mary picked out colors to paint her room. She selected furniture and was excited to have a small table with two chairs, lace table cloth, a tea set and photo album and pictures displayed. The French Impressionist art returned. She had her own closet and wanted nice clothes. After all, she planned for visitors who came from all over the country not just locally. She really enjoyed sleeping in and still having breakfast, sitting by the fireplace and having meals at a large, beautiful table while chatting with the shahbazim. We visited often and strolled through the neighborhood. My mother brought her dog all the time. My daughter played violin for all. We spent Christmas day there two years in a row with violin, serving prime rib (from a blender) and laughter. It was magical. Mary smiled, and laughed. She bragged on the violinist.
Our family got to know Thomas and Monica, her shahbazim. My grandmother told me she felt bad that Thomas’s dog always fancied her over the others. (Thomas thought that was odd as yes the dog loved her but he said Mary wouldn’t ever let the dog leave her lap!) Monica once took a dress home to iron so that Mary would not be wrinkled. Every night she donned a soft floral gown and was tucked into bed. The year of 2006 belonged to Mary. Mary celebrated her 100th birthday with a margarita and cigarette on the porch of the home with family and friends. My mother too connected with the Green House, the shahbazim, and the elders in a deeply almost spiritual way. When Mary passed on, we grieved with the elders and shahbazim.
We continued to visit the Green House until all the elders we knew passed on. My mother was attached to this home. There was a memorial event in honor of Mary the next year with a statue in the garden at that Green House bearing a likeness of my mother’s dog. The Green House enabled Mary to live some of the happiest days of her life. These also some of the happiest days of my life and that of my mother, as we knew that Grandmother was cared for — deeply cared for.
Special thanks to Ann Frohman and her family for continuing to keep Mary’s light shining bright!