Green House Blog

How They Made the Mold

We had a trip down memory lane and the inside scoop from two innovative

The first Green House home in Tupelo, MS.

leaders on the most recent Elevate Eldercare episode. Susan interviewed the creator and founder of The Green House Project, Dr. Bill Thomas, MD, and the CEO of Methodist Senior Services (MSS), Steve McAlilly. MSS pioneered the first Green House homes on the campus of Traceway Retirement Community in Tupelo, Miss., in 2003.

It almost didn’t happen at Traceway. MSS had dedicated funds, to the tune of 12 million dollars, to build what would have been a pretty traditional facility. Emboldened by the vision Bill cast, Steve persuaded the board to take a leap of faith. We often talk at Green House about building the bridge as we walk across it. I guess that DNA harkens back to when Traceway “made the mold,” to quote Bill.

Among our favorite questions at Green House are: “Would you have it at home?” and “Would you do it that way at home?” These questions were birthed years ago as the Tupelo team wrestled through what should go into those first homes.

There is this constant pull between Real Home, a Green House core value and an institutionalized way of doing things, which we call institutional creep and often refer to it as the institutional dragon always lurking just outside the home. Bill said, “it is always, always, always easier to do things the usual way…. The pressure to conform to the traditional system is enormous and it never lets up.” But pushing the easy button doesn’t ultimately get us to how Steve describes Green House homes: “a vessel that enables life and living and loving and learning together.”

More than just a history lesson on Green House homes, the conversation moved us to consider how to not waste a pandemic. I love that Steve said, “It is a sin to not do as much as we can as fast as we can; the real sin is apathy. The sin is accepting the status quo and not acting to change it.”
The pandemic has shed a light on long-term care and rather than vilify “traditional” nursing homes we need to seize this moment to do something different. Both Mary and I resonated with what Bill described as, “big house, small life, small house, big life.”

When it comes to the deep knowing of elders, reciprocity, interdependence, building community, and autonomy and control, smaller is better. I think there is opportunity for any long-term care organization to consider how they might take bigger sections of their homes and make them smaller.

On our podcast I got to share one of my favorite books, “Community: The Structure of Belonging” by Peter Block. Whether you work in long-term care, are a part of a church, social group, or a neighborhood, there is application to you. Bottom line—we need to be intentional about creating community. It doesn’t just happen.

In 2008, Block wrote that we live in an age of isolation. That is even more true in this pandemic era. What Thomas, McAlilly, and Block teach us is that we can author a different future for our elders and for ourselves if we seize upon this opportunity to shift the paradigm once again.

For even more insights and takeaways, take a listen to the original interview and then join Mary and me for, “Let Me Say This About That.”
>>Listen HERE on Apple Podcast
>>Listen HERE on Spotify
>>Listen HERE on Stitcher

Dementia-ism, Grace, and the Value of the Outdoors

In our Friday recap of this podcast, “Let Me Say This About That,” Marla and I take a wonderful journey to further explore what Dr. Wright would like to accomplish. We discuss how he will use his voice and why we see his 25 years of experience as a way to help pave the path toward a better lifestyle for all elders.

A tragic and overwhelming loss of more than two dozen elders at a nursing home in Virginia due to COVID-19 propelled its medical director to use his voice to educate the media—and to crystalize his goals for a unique community designed for elders living with dementia. Dr. James Wright is that medical director. I believe you’ll be impressed by his passion and determination to set the record straight and his candid explanation that we live in “a society that feels that they can ignore their elders, warehouse their elders, especially those that are poor, especially those that have dementia.” Strong words, but he is ready to be the advocate that uses a devasting situation to significantly enhance the life of elders, especially those living with dementia. COVID-19 for Dr. Wright was a back-handed gift to provide that sense of urgency for him.

He has three distinct principles that guide his vision, and some may surprise you. Why would outdoors be on the list? And why might he suggest that federal/state surveyors, often the group of people who only seek out what is not being done correctly, be the group that should become mentors and guides to support the staff at nursing homes? Can you imagine welcoming surveyors to your community instead of being concerned about their arrival? Oh…and what about community integration at a community for people living with dementia? We are not talking about just childcare on campus, or a café, but what about a brewery and lots and lots of open acreage? Not what most would envision when thinking about a community to support the growth and care of elders…especially those with dementia. However, you might find yourself asking “Why not?” They are all part of Dr. Wright’s vision for the future.

In addition to exploring the meaning of grace, Marla and I delve into the devaluation of elders living with dementia. Dr. Wright, who also has a degree in theology (a nice combination for a medical doctor wouldn’t you say?), took time to explain how society values youth and power and undervalues the poor, the dependent, and those with dementia.  

As we examine the stigma of dementia, we discuss what Dr. Wright calls the last acceptable form of prejudice: “dement-ism.” 

So, grab some coffee or tea and take a listen to both podcasts. Episode 3 is the interview with Dr. Wright and episode 4 is the “Let Me Say This About That” recap that offers insights from Marla and me. I believe you will find it enlightening.

>>Listen HERE on Apple Podcast

>>Listen HERE on Spotify

>>Listen HERE on Stitcher

We Thought It Was Time for a Podcast that Elevates Eldercare: So We Made One!

The Green House Project has launched a podcast! It’s called Elevate Eldercare and we hope you will listen, as well as subscribe, so you can hear it each Wednesday and Friday on your favorite platform (Apple, Stitcher, or Spotify). On Wednesdays, Senior Director Susan Ryan brings enlightening,  Marla and Mary
provocative, and sometimes uncomfortable conversations with thought leaders who offer diverse perspectives aimed at elevating eldercare.

On Fridays, Director of Resource Development Marla DeVries and Project Manager Mary Hopfner-Thomas present “Let Me Say This About That,” a quick and witty recap episode that we asked Marla and Mary to explain here:

Marla: “Clifton Keith Hillegass is a hero of mine, even though I was unaware of his name until today (thank you Google). However, I was very familiar with his work. Clifton, a college graduate who worked at a campus bookstore in Nebraska in the 1950s, met Jack Cole, the publisher of the Canadian study guides, Cole’s Notes. Cole suggested to Hillegass that American students would welcome a U.S. version of his eponymously named publication. In 1958, CliffsNotes launched with 16 Shakespeare study guides. He sold 58,000 copies that first year.

“In the late 1980s CliffsNotes was a lifesaver to this high school student. I loved the bite-sized summary and identification of key themes. Certainly, there were times I didn’t read the original work, but often, oh okay, sometimes, I read the book and reviewed the CliffsNotes, as they helped me think through things on a deeper level.

“So, with a nod to Clifton, we are happy to bring you “Let Me Say This About That,” a CliffsNotes version of our newly launched Elevate Eldercare podcast. Each Wednesday, GHP Senior Director Susan Ryan brings us a captivating interview with a thought leader as they discuss relevant and often provocative topics. Each Friday, Mary and I highlight key aspects of the discussion; things that stick out to us as especially important.

“I love words and often look up their definitions, so you’ll likely hear me throw in some vocab review as well. We will also add in some additional facts, bits of our own research, and things we’ve learned in our combined 44 years in long-term care, such as key aspects of the Green House model and how they can be applied to other settings.”

Mary: “So, if you’re wondering why our Friday CliffNotes episodes are called ‘Let Me Say This About That,’ I can assure you it was not in the initial list of potential names: ‘Reflection Friday,’ ‘Rising Up,’ ‘Like It Is,’ and ‘In Our Words’ were among the contenders. For me, the title is all about passion concerning a topic. In fact, I am inclined to emphasize the words this and that for the title.

“My colleagues are well aware of how I use the statement when we are in a team meeting discussing options about a certain topic. I will start off by saying, ‘well, let me say this about that!’ And to be honest, often I say it with a little attitude. It’s my way of highlighting what I see as the issue and what I see as an option to improve the situation.

“When I emailed Marla to suggest it as one name for the podcast it was almost done in jest. Yet, now when I think about it the name resonates. The show reflects our passion about what hits in the Wednesday episodes, and we want to share that with our audience.”

Marla: “I don’t have the broadcast experience my friend Mary does. But my roots are deep in advocacy, cutting my teeth as a long-term care ombudsman. And I love how Susan describes the podcast as an opportunity to speak up and speak out about real issues. I hope we do that.

“Although we don’t have the answers and it’s not a polished, perfect presentation, we will raise the issues and wrestle through complicated topics. In addition, we will keep our eye on practical ways to take action, in ways that we might not only think differently, but also do differently.

“We will also have some fun along the way. Mary and I enjoy working together, we are quick to laugh, and we both have a passion for transforming eldercare—one person and one system at a time. We hope you enjoy, ‘Let Me Say This About That,’ and join us in wrestling through these timely, thought-provoking, and action-invoking issues.”

Listen to the original Elevate Eldercare podcast each Wednesday then join us on Fridays for “Let Me Say This About That.”

Listen here on Apple Podcast:
https://podcasts.apple.com/…/elevate-eldercare/id1524700411…

Listen on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/53ldGsdYWxd6W6eD8xz4kx

Listen on Stitcher here: https://www.stitcher.com/podc…/elevate-eldercare/e/76428729…