The Green House Project seeks to offer older people autonomy, with nurses providing care in buildings nearly indistinguishable from neighbors houses
You could almost mistake it for a student house-share.
Ten bedrooms, a gaggle of residents hanging out in the living room, exotic smells coming from the kitchen and pullout couches for people to stay the night.
But the fridges are stocked with fruit juice instead of cheap beer; the only drugs on offer are prescription meds. And the average age of the tenant is over 80.
Is this the future of elderly care? Four elegant homes on a tree-lined suburban block in West Orange, New Jersey, personalised schedules, care plans and mealtimes, adaptable care workers and a vibe that is more hotel than hospital.
The model, developed by a group called the Green House Project, likes to say it puts the elders at the center of the programme, giving them as much autonomy and independence as possible within the confines of a space that still has skilled nurses on hand to work with the retirees.
Susan Ryan, the Green House Projects senior director, said the model upends the traditional organizational structure in a care home to give older people the power to make the decisions, regardless of their physical condition.
We really place value on who that person is and the rich life that person has lived, Ryan said. The world is looking: how do we solve the problem of global ageing?
It certainly is. The number of people worldwide over 60 is expected to more than double over the next 30 years to around two billion by 2050. All across the world, according to the UNs 2012 report on global ageing, people are caring for their ageing relatives at home less and relying more and more on facilities to house older relatives in the final stages of life.
But the alarms have sounded on the quality of this care and people are working to improve the treatment offered to people in their final stages of life. The Green House Project has been pioneering a new approach, and has over the past 10 years expanded to a network of 204 homes in 29 states.
The company has fielded calls from all over the world, including Germany, the UK and Australia, and Ryan recently gave a Chinese businessman a tour of one of the Green House facilities.
Ryan said she was a director of nursing for long-term care when she realized the elderly care system was broken.
Our best practices were not really enabling elders to live any type of quality of life, Ryan said. And even what we were doing in terms of trying to bring the best quality of care fell way short of what I felt in my heart was good.
She moved to home care, but that is exclusive to people who can afford its steep price tag. And she found that it was an incredibly isolating experience for residents. It felt like there was still something missing, Ryan said.
At Green Hill in West Orange, the answer is that the residents are in charge. If a resident worked night shifts her whole life and wants to continue that nocturnal lifestyle, its permitted. Residents get to choose their breakfasts, which are prepared by aides, and lunch menus are customized to match their preferences.