Green House Blog

Dr. Atul Gawande Examines Life Worth Living in Green House Homes

This month, Dr. Atul Gawande is promoting the release of his new book, “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End,” which challenges readers to think carefully about the decisions they make for themselves and their loved ones at the end of life.

During an interview with the Diane Rehm Show on NPR this week, Dr. Gawande asked listeners to strive for more than simply “a good death.” Instead, he says we must ask ourselves what brings the most meaning and purpose to our lives and fill our days with those things, to the best of our ability, until we die. During the interview, Dr. Gawande mentions The Green House Project as an organization that is working tirelessly to expand a model of autonomy, growth, and purposeful living to individuals at the end of their lives. The full interview transcript is here, in addition to the audio recording.

At an appearance in Washington, D.C. last night, Dr. Gawande spoke to a crowd of over two hundred people about the innovative approach of The Green House model in skilled nursing care. In Chapter 5 of his new book he writes that Green House homes are “…designed to pursue that idea that a life worth living can be created…by focusing on food, homemaking, and befriending others.”

The loneliness, helplessness and boredom so often experienced by those living out the end of their lives in long-term care institutions should not be the norm in this country. We need innovative approaches, like The Green House model, which are built on the belief that every person, up until their last breath, should have the freedom to feel empowered and engaged in their life.

7th Eden Alternative International Conference: Green House Staffers Present on a Wide Variety of Culture Change Issues

The Eden Alternative is celebrating 20 years in 2014!  So, the conference last week was time for a celebration and a chance for thought leaders and partners from across the country to share their knowledge and experience with conference participants.  Below are highlights from just a few of the sessions led by Green House team members.

Bringing Eden Alternative Principles to Hospice: Treading New Ground

Person-centered care can be a powerful differentiator in competitive hospice markets.  The Eden Alternative Philosophy can help hospices deal with financial realities like the increased focus on efficiency dictated by Medicare reimbursement cuts, as well as the employee stress and dissatisfaction caused by these changes.   It’s also an important way for hospice organizations to demonstrate to staff that they remain focused on their clients and mission, despite the economic challenges.

That was the message from the session entitled: “Bringing Eden Alternative Principles to Hospice: Treading New Ground” presented by Project Guide, Claire Lucas, of The Green House Project.  While the basic concepts remain consistent across the care continuum, there are unique challenges incorporating person-centered care in the surprisingly medically focused hospice environment.  One challenge is that Elders are located remotely.  Another is the short duration of typical hospice care, with most ranging from just a few days to two weeks.

The Eden Alternative philosophy encourages hospice providers to enrich their visits, and add more value.  Focusing on simple pleasures, activities and hobbies, and reminiscing are a few ways to keep the focus on the person.  Other ways to enhance home hospice visits include aromatherapy, comfort touch and music.

Well-being and the Empowered Workforce: Respect, Relationships, and Growth

The key to empowered staff is coaching leadership according to Project Guide, Marla DeVries and Director, Susan Frazier of the Green House Project staff.
Empowered Staff is the “human architecture” of the Green House home explained Frazier.

In the Green House model, the CNA role is replaced by a versatile worker, called a Shahbaz .  They are part of a self-managed work team – a team that is respected for its proximity and deep knowing of Elders.  A central component of an empowered workforce is coaching leadership, creating empowerment conditions and always “educating, educating, educating.”  “While traditionally a leader is focused on managing people,” said DeVries, “coaching leaders must embrace people.”

With an empowered workforce, the focus is no longer about care-giving, but about care partnership – how staff works together.  Clinical support team staff members do not come in to deliver a solution, but to support staff and to work as a coaching partner.  While working as a mentor and an educator, a coaching leader must balance support and accountability with team members.

A Community-based Green House Approach: Development Goals, Opportunities and Outcomes

There are unique benefits available to providers and developers teaming up to provide healthcare via decentralized community-based approach.

Using the nation’s first community-based Green House project as a case study, Susan Frazier and SWBR Architect, Rob Simonetti, expressed that incorporating senior living options like Green House homes into residential developments is a win-win.  Elders benefit because they’re not segregated from the community, living in a real home, with a normalized environment and routine, and being part of a real community.

Incorporating Green House homes into developments also benefits the developer.   It enhances community support and helps them achieve construction efficiencies.  It’s also a significant market differentiator – the Green House model is very attractive and seen as a positive addition to a development.  “Green House homes make it easier for developers to sell market rate housing,” according to Simonetti.  Part of the attraction is buyers who are anticipating a future need, either for themselves or a loved one.


Highlighting THE GREEN HOUSE Project® Team: Claire Lucas, Project Guide

When Claire Lucas entered a nursing home for the first time, she was anticipating walking into a room filled with smiling faces with laughter echoing throughout the halls. She expected to see nurses walking alongside Elders as they’d wave hello to her, their faces gleaming with happiness and joy. She thought she’d see something resembling a real home. Instead, she was greeted by unpleasant fumes and the sound of someone calling numbers for bingo. A group of Elders were huddled around the nursing station and the atmosphere was unsettling.  Almost instantly, Claire felt like leaving – but thankfully, she stayed.

Although gerontology was never a field Claire thought to consider, the need to bring cultural change to the field was something Claire knew she had to help to achieve. Growing up listening to her grandparents stories and witnessing their love and affection, Claire knew the current way in which traditional nursing homes were run was not acceptable. To Claire, Elders held a certain value for which they needed to be appreciated. Thus, she decided to dedicate her efforts to helping reshape Elder care by working toward empowering and helping them at a time in their life when they needed it most.

Throughout her years Claire has worked in various capacities to assist people in Elderhood and at the end of life.  As Director of Facility Based Hospice & Bereavement for The Denver Hospice in Colorado, Claire oversaw hospice services including opening a new patient care center and helping The Denver Hospice apply for The Eden Registry. Prior to her work with The Denver Hospice, Claire served as the Vice President of Operations for Vivage Quality Health Partners. Today, Claire serves as a Project Guide at the Green House Project and continues to contribute her skills and experience to help establish Green House homes across the nation.

  • 19 years of experience as a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator, opening new facilities and assisting in specialty program development
  • Masters of Science in Gerontology, emphasis in Direct Service
  • Regional Vice President for nine skilled nursing facilities in Colorado
  • Eden Educator and LEAP Educator
  • Presenter at numerous national conferences, including her special interest in Alzheimer’s Disease and culture change
  • Board Member Colorado Culture Change Coalition

Claire has been incredibly active in her passion toward assisting those with Alzheimer’s. She has worked on developing some of the earliest Special Care Units and continues to remain active with those projects.

Claire enjoys international travel and visiting new places. She also enjoys theater, the arts along with the outdoors and hiking.

Highlighting the Green House Project Team: Mary Hopfner-Thomas, Project Manager

As the saying goes “when one door closes—another will open for you.”  That was certainly was the case for Mary.  After 19 years in corporation communications, a company merger meant a large scale layoff, and sent Mary in search of a new career opportunity.

Working with Elders had always interested her, but she had no idea that interest would translate into a new career track and a decision to return to school and obtain her Masters degree in the Management of Aging Services.

Mary began her journey with the Erickson Retirement Communities in a   variety of positions within the Resident Life Department.  She successfully led a number of initiatives for the organization—from working at the grassroots level with volunteer community residents on in-house television productions to serving as the community, stakeholder and customer interface in Erickson’s new Retirement Living TV (RLTV) cable television venture.  In her role with Community Resources, she served as the Elders’ primary contact for the creation of new activities/events and organizations.  She worked with elders living in independent, assisted, and skilled nursing.  Mary developed programs within the Erickson CCRC as well as outside organizations, always looking for new and creative opportunities for the Elders.  During her tenure with Erickson, Mary was determined to further her knowledge of Elders, and went back to school.

Today, as a Project Manager for THE GREEN HOUSE ® Project, Mary is excited to be part of the team and share her knowledge of the model and support current adopters.     

  • 9 years in aging services
  • M.A. Management of Aging Services, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC)
  • CCRC community based TV station – teaching Elders to operate studio cameras, audio and editing equipment.
  • Planned, coordinated and executed marketing events to promote RLTV
  • Served as primary contact for Elders when creating new activities/organizations at the Erickson CCRC – Greenspring in Springfield, Virginia
  • Trained Eden Associate

 In addition to her passion for working with Elders, Mary enjoys sewing (baby quilts), cross-stitch, running (completed 3 Marine Corps Marathons) and reading good fiction.

Highlighting THE GREEN HOUSE® Project Team: Marla DeVries

Being an advocate for others is what Marla truly enjoys.  In fact, most of her professional career has been in roles where it has been her responsibility to make sure the voices of others are being heard.  Elders have been her focus for the last 20 years.

Marla began her journey in Michigan as a Long Term Care Ombudsman for a nonprofit group called Citizens for Better Care.  In her position she would visit with Elders to make sure they understood their rights, conducted education sessions for Skilled Nursing Home staff and participated in family and Elder councils.  It was during this time that Marla heard a lecture by Eden Alternative and Green House founder, Dr. Bill Thomas, and within months the Ombudsman program partnered with the Eden Alternative.  Marla became an Eden Specialist instructing her colleagues on the principles of the Eden Alternative.  She implemented a Western Michigan Eden Support group for long term care communities. 

Training and educating others about Elders became a passion for Marla.  In Michigan over 2,500 participants learned about the Eden Alternative through her training programs.  She developed educational materials and learning sessions for Area Agencies on Aging staff in Michigan and became a sought after speaker for long term care conferences.

For the past 5 years, Marla has focused all of her attention on culture change. Most recently she led the management of culture change work teams across five care communities in Utah employing 400 staff positions.

Marla is now sharing her skills and knowledge about Elders and culture change in THE GREEN HOUSE ® Project as a Project Guide.

  • 20 years of experience in aging services—with a passion for culture change  
  • Recipient of the Eden Alternative 2010 Leadership Award
  • Initiated curricula development for state-wide adult abuse and neglect prevention training and train the trainer sessions reaching over 7000 direct care staff in Michigan
  • Eden Educator authorized to conduct Certified Eden Associate training, Eden leadership training, Eden at Home trainer certification, and Eden Alternative Neighborhood Guide workshops.
  • Speaker/Presenter for numerous Utah Healthcare conferences

 Marla thoroughly enjoys the outdoors, especially hiking on a good trail…whether in the sun or snow!  Marla and her husband live in Utah and have 3 children.

Highlighting THE GREEN HOUSE® Project Team: Heather Marshall, Project Manager

Heather fondly remembers her childhood and much of that happiness in her life is because her Grandparents were so involved in her upbringing.  In fact for a long time Heather thought she had two Moms—her Mom and her other “mom” which was her Grandmother!

Her Grandmother worked in the school system as a Truant Officer, so Heather would not only spend time at home with her, she was also at the school with her every day.  Those early years formed a unique foundation for Heather—one where she was most comfortable being around adults and also showed the importance of being grateful for the many blessings in her life.  Giving back to your community was part of those lessons learned from her childhood.

So it should be no surprise that Heather pursued a degree in Social Work and was the only one in her undergraduate class with an interest in Gerontology!  Her undergraduate work earned her many awards including being published in a national industry periodical, Social Work.  An internship at an Adult Day Enrichment program turned into a full-time position after she graduated with her B.S. in Social Work.  A year and half later Heather went back to school for her Master of Social Work degree at Washington University in St. Louis.  A highlight for her graduate work was the time she spent as an intern at the National Council on Aging where she organized a national summit for the Multi-Generational and Civic Engagement Initiative which brought together leaders to share successful methods of engaging older volunteers in leadership positions.

Today, as a Project Manager for THE GREEN HOUSE ® Project, Heather is excited to be part of the team and share her knowledge of the model and support current adopters.

  • Master of Social Work, Gerontology; Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri
  • Emerging Leaders in Aging (ELA), Co-Director of D.C. mentorship program
  • Trained Eden Associate and Embracing Elderhood Guide
  • 5 years in aging services
  • Publication in Social Work.  The big picture:  How social work can effectively utilize photography.  October 2009.
  • National Association of Social Workers Bachelor of Social Work Student of the Year for Tennessee; Dr. Clara Louise Myers Outstanding Practicum Student Award in Gerontology

In addition to her passion for working with Elders, Heather enjoys photography, game nights with friends, attending live concerts, and playing Ultimate Frisbee!

Green House model creator, Dr. Bill Thomas, to be honored by The Long Term Care Community Coalition

Green House model creator, Dr. Bill Thomas,”an international authority on geriatric medicine and eldercare”, will be honored by The Long Term Care Coalition in a fundraiser to benefit the coalition. The theme of this year’s fundraiser, “improving the lives of nursing home residents and changing the way we think about the elderly”, is a perfect backdrop to Dr. Thomas’ message that it can be different!

The Long Term Care Community Coalition (LTCCC) is a group devoted to improving care for the elderly and disabled. Their work centers around work to ensure that long term care consumers, who are often very vulnerable, are cared for safely and treated with dignity.

The Green House model, created to be a place where Dr. Thomas’ Eden Alternative Principles can thrive, is a living testement to the goals of the coalition. By simultaneously transforming the philosophy, environment and organizational structures of traditional long term care, real power is shifted to the elder and those working closest to them.

To learn more about the coalition and the fundraiser, click here.

Embracing Elderhood Changes Lives Across Generations

By Laura Beck on September 13, 2012

At last week’s Green House Annual Meeting in Grand Rapids, Mich., I had the opportunity to introduce Green House adopters to Embracing Elderhood, an Eden Alternative initiative that brings volunteers, age 16 and older, together with Elders through the power of story

There is an African saying that equates the passing of an Elder to the loss of a library.  This proverb is the inspiration behind Embracing Elderhood and the notion that to truly care for someone, you must have a deeper understanding and appreciation of who they are.  On November 15th and 16th, The Eden Alternative will offer Embracing Elderhood Guide Certification to Green Houses and other organizations to help make legacy creation  an integral part of their community culture.

Part life story and part gift in the form of whatever an Elder wishes to offer future generations, legacies highlight and celebrate Elders as unique individuals, provide meaningful engagement for all, and answer important questions about our own lives.

When Elders are encouraged to share their legacies, we strike a blow against any potential sense of helplessness and isolation and reclaim their vital societal role.  In a healthy human community, this precious balance between giving and receiving across generations is essential. Every effort to weave Elders back into the social fabric of our communities – even one relationship at a time – is another step toward promoting a vision of Elderhood as a valued phase of human development, rather than just the decline of life.

Organizations tell us all of the time that they already ‘do’ Elder stories.  What we’ve learned, though, is that legacy creation, at its best, is much more about the process, than it is the outcome.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to talk to some young people who’d been handed a list of questions and told to sit with an older stranger and get some answers.  These youth shared later that they had no idea why they were there and why they were doing this.  The Elders, in turn, stated that they didn’t know why they were being asked all of these personal questions.  Without a sense of purpose behind their actions, neither walked away touched in any particularly meaningful way.

Knowing WHY an Elder’s legacy has value is the first vital step toward successful legacy creation.  Given the right tools and perspective upfront, participants are often surprised by how deeply they are positively affected by the experience in the end.

Meredith, a 12th grade Embracing Elderhood Recording Partner from Charlottesville, VA, said, “This experience has completely changed the way I think about being an Elder. It helped me to understand that Elders don’t just live in the past. They still have the desire to learn, great senses of humor, and important lives to live.”

Meredith, like all volunteer Recording Partners, began her Embracing Elderhood journey in a 1-day training that introduces participants to culture change ideals.  Through the scope of the Eden Alternative’s Ten Principles, Embracing Elderhood Guides  teach Recording Partners person-directed concepts and techniques designed to create meaningful partnerships with their Elder Storytellers.  The interactive workshop emphasizes the power of story, the impact of ageism, redefining Elderhood, balancing “being” and “doing,” and appropriate communication and companionship building skills.

Recording Partners also learn how to drive an online template for legacy creation, which is just prescriptive enough for them to focus their attention on the relationship they are building with their Storyteller, while leaving room for creative license.  From there, each Recording Team, composed of a Recording Partner and a Storyteller, receives on-going mentorship from their Embracing Elderhood Guide, who is prepared to support each team’s legacy creation process.

Dr. Bill Thomas suggests that “acknowledging and embracing the idea of Elder-richness and strengthening the exchange between the generations can improve quality of life for all ages.” While the participation of youth tends to pique most people’s interest in Embracing Elderhood, Recording Partners can be as young as 16 and as old as they want to be.

This, coupled with the fact that any kind of organization can begin an ongoing Embracing Elderhood initiative, offers flexibility and the opportunity to help create a new vision of aging that calls on everyone to play a part in bringing it to life.

Tribes of Eden Book Club at Pioneer Network's 2012 National Conference

It’s not often that you get the chance to hear the author read excerpts from their book, but that was the case Tuesday as Dr. Bill Thomas discussed his latest novel, The Tribes of Eden.   The lucky audience was attendees at the Pioneer Network 2012 National Conference.  The book is set in the near future after the utter collapse of society.  It introduces a new vision of old age to counter ageist views that hinder our efforts to improve care for older adults.   

Dr. Thomas had a special message for the culture change group, stating that it is time for them to take the movement one step further.  “We need to become agents of changing our wider culture.”  He believes the novel can be conduit for this broader change.  He challenged the group “to begin framing the work you do to the society as a whole”…it is time to combat declinist and ageist views that do not promote elderhood.

Dr. Thomas is the founder of The Eden Alternative and The Green House Project.

Tribes of Eden Book Club at Pioneer Network’s 2012 National Conference

It’s not often that you get the chance to hear the author read excerpts from their book, but that was the case Tuesday as Dr. Bill Thomas discussed his latest novel, The Tribes of Eden.   The lucky audience was attendees at the Pioneer Network 2012 National Conference.  The book is set in the near future after the utter collapse of society.  It introduces a new vision of old age to counter ageist views that hinder our efforts to improve care for older adults.   

Dr. Thomas had a special message for the culture change group, stating that it is time for them to take the movement one step further.  “We need to become agents of changing our wider culture.”  He believes the novel can be conduit for this broader change.  He challenged the group “to begin framing the work you do to the society as a whole”…it is time to combat declinist and ageist views that do not promote elderhood.

Dr. Thomas is the founder of The Eden Alternative and The Green House Project.

The 6th Eden Alternative International Conference

One of many celebrations!








The conference lobby was buzzing with excitement as individuals gathered for the 6th Eden Alternative International Conference.  Even as a newcomer to this event, it was evident that everyone was deeply connected both personally and professionally.  It felt like a large family reunion, and in no time, I was swept up in all the enthusiasm and camaraderie.

I have been pondering how to capture my experience but have found it very difficult to neatly package three powerful and enlightening days into one blog.  I anticipated I would meet extraordinary people, but I never imagined every person I met to leave such a lasting impression.  For instance, I met Connie Goldman, a former staff member of National Public Radio and life-long advocate of changing society’s perception on aging.  “We all want to live a long life,” she stated during the conference. “However, no one wants to age.  What people don’t understand is that being older is the best time of your life or at least it can be.”  I realized I was surrounded by people tirelessly working to make this a reality.

The conference was packed with educational sessions, panels, an exhibitor booth, and plenty of convivium and celebration.  Information ranged from international growth to intergenerational opportunities.  The conference also illuminated how the Eden philosophy and principles thrive in The Green House model.  It was a reminder that relationships are the basis of the work we do and will continue to guide our work in the future.

Dr. Bill Thomas hosts a virtual launch party for his new book 'Tribes of Eden'!

Dr. William Thomas, founder of the Eden Alternative and Green House Project, is hosting a virtual launch party for his new book, Tribes of Eden.  “I can’t tell you how excited I am for the official paperback release of my newest novel Tribes of Eden on April 2, 2012,” he writes on his Changing Aging blog. “Nearly eight years in the making, this book is inspired by and dedicated to the REAL tribes of Eden — thousands and thousands of people around the globe who make up The Eden Alternative and broader culture change community.”

If you are a Green House adopter or a member of The Eden Alternative, join Dr. Thomas via webinar for a reading from Tribes of Eden. This is a rare opportunity to get an insider’s look at the real people and places integral to the history and vision of The Eden Alternative.  A Q&A session with the author will follow.  Furthermore, every organization that hosts a book launch party will get an autographed copy to give away.

Changing Aging offers the following synopsis:

“On the run after America’s sudden and utter collapse, a family finds sanctuary in the heart of a community thriving “off the grid.” But when the lure of a virtual new world order divides the family, the elders of the community recognize that humanity’s fate rests with a chosen girl and a surprising alliance between the least powerful — the young and old.”

First Read: The Tribes of Eden from Kavan Peterson on Vimeo.