Last year, when Claremont, CA resident Bill Andrus began to need 24-hour care in their home, he and his wife, Georgeann, chose Mt. San Antonio Gardens’ Evergreen Villas for his new home. The Villas are trademarked GREEN HOUSE homes, which provides a real home for people needing skilled nursing care. In each of the two villas, the residents are supported by a small, self-managed team of care partners, known as shahbazim, and nurses. Mt. San Antonio Gardens pioneered what are California’s first and only small homes licensed for skilled nursing.
“We wanted Bill to live in a stimulating environment while receiving the care he needs,” says Georgeann. Acknowledging the difficulty of making that decision, the couple feels fortunate that the Villas were an option for them. Georgeann, who served on the Gardens board of directors for six years when The Green House homes were being considered, says, “We are so grateful for Bill to be part of it. It has been particularly heartwarming to see this from the initial concept and then to participate in the reality of seeing it work very well.”
While Bill was settling in, Georgeann applied to live at the Gardens as an active, healthy independent resident. She moved into an apartment on campus where she takes a quick walk to the Evergreen Villas. Living on the same campus means easy and frequent visits each day. The couple goes together to lectures and performances held at the Gardens or at the nearby Claremont Colleges. “Our neurologist had said to me, ‘Now you can just be a spouse, not the caregiver’, and he was so right!”
“Bill has become physically stronger since his move here,” marvels Georgeann. The special design of the great room has inspired Bill to use his walker, unassisted. The couple also credits the home-like atmosphere and the personalized attention of the shahbazim and nurses to his continued well-being. Because this team works so closely with such a small group of elders, the care partners get to know their personalities and individual needs and preferences intimately. While the shahbazim are also responsible for cooking and maintaining the house, their first priority, Georgeann notes, is always the care of the elders.
“The people are the best thing,” says Bill, who especially enjoys sharing common interests with Registered Nurse (RN) Michael Sansosti. Both are avid readers and love fishing.
“It’s great,” says Michael. “We trade books and when I have some extra time in my schedule, we’ll spend time talking about them.” The ability to give everyone a little extra attention is very gratifying. Michael, who previously worked in structured hospital environments, enjoys the opportunity he now has to cultivate more personal friendships with the residents he cares for. “Certain people, like Bill, do very well in this kind of setting. It is especially well suited to those who prefer to take the initiative for their daily activities” and who enjoy the interaction and activity that is such an important part of the daily experience in the Evergreen Villas, according to Michael.
Working with the caregivers is also a new experience for Michael. “We work side by side with the shahbazim. While the RNs are in charge of everything clinical, the care partners spend all of their time interacting with the residents, so they can give us feedback on their behavior and needs, enabling us to intervene early.”
“Communication is a big thing here,” acknowledges shahbaz Amanda Phos, who began her training for her role long before the Evergreen Villas opened. With just 10 elders in each of the two Evergreen Villas, the care partners get to know each person personally, from their life stories to their health needs and abilities, their food preferences, and their hobbies and interests. “If you know the elders well, taking care of them is very easy,” says Amanda. “I think that’s the beauty of this place. We base each day’s activities on what they individually want to do. And every day is different. When we all come together around the dinner table, we like to talk about the day’s activities. It feels like a family.
“It’s hard work, and it takes a team to make it work so well,” says Amanda. “We’re the heart of the home, and that makes it very gratifying to be here.”