Ron Yoder has a deep memory of being a young child and, every weekend accompanying his parents to visit his grandfather, who had suffered a debilitating stroke. Ron remembers him in a bed in the living room, being cared for by the family. He remembers him in his home…and dying in his home.
Years later when Ron’s father got older and sick, the family got to a point where they couldn’t care for him anymore and eventually his father was transported to a nursing home. Ron was four hours away by car. His father died there. It felt different.
Maybe Ron knew it then or maybe he knew it later, but eventually he admitted to himself, “I’m the generation that’s not caring for their parents.” And he knew he needed to do something about it.
This is what Ron Yoder carried into his office when he became president of Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC) and Woodland Park, a long-term care facility in Virginia, in early 1999. He also carried with him not a health-care background, but a business background, and a track record of making places better. And he carried his ability to listen.
So when he first came to work, he didn’t go forward. Instead, he went back—all the way back to the founding, planning, and vision documents that VMRC’s advisory board had crafted in the 1970s. What he found were articles about “normalization”—a desire to carry forward the residents’ patterns and conditions of everyday life. That stuck.
What also stuck was VMRC’s track record of following that path and implementing some radical change every decade. He wondered what he would do. He thought of normalization and how its intellectual and philosophical framework could help shape the design of new programs and upgrading of existing programs and facilities. That’s when he found The Green House Project and saw how perfectly the two aligned.
By the time he started, VMRC already had made innovations such as creating “neighborhoods” instead of corridors—an innovation that took place before Ron got there, but residents still needed more private space and still had to share rooms divided only by curtains. Ron knew that wasn’t home. It became a moral imperative to keep moving toward normalization. In The Green House model, Ron and VMRC found what they were looking for.
They found the blueprint for a system that could offer to someone who needs complete living care an environment that is home.
“There were other models out there, but most still used a lot of the same central services,” he said. “None went as far as The Green House Project does in creating a home environment. None rose to our levels of value—our philosophy.”
So VMRC signed on with The Green House Project, who provided a practical model and a plan for success. The Green House Project also gave VMRC a network and an association of project adopters so that it would continue to be a member of and contributor to a learning community.
The Green House Project had data showing increased satisfaction of residents, employees, and families, and it also shared the research it had conducted on other projects showing an increase in positive clinical outcomes. It was that last result, combined with the alignment in philosophy, in caring, and in dignity that solidified VMRC’s decision to work with The Green House Project.
VMRC opened three Green House homes this January in their Woodland Park neighborhood, with plans to build 10 in the future to replace the entire institutional environment. They’re all full. Actually, they were full before they opened. They had chosen one existing “neighborhood” of VMRC with around 30 residents, plus staff, and offered the new model to them as an option. Most residents and staff said yes.
And although the data is just coming in, the stories are already here. Ron was in the wellness center doing his strength training the other day and saw one of the new residents.
“Morris, what’s the news from Woodland Park?” he said. “You still happy?”
“Yes, yes, still happy,” Morris replied. “Actually, I heard one of the other residents say, ‘I never thought I’d live long enough to go home.’”