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Doctor Broke the Law to Bring a Revolutionary Revamping to Nursing Homes

 

Doctor Broke the Law to Bring a Revolutionary Revamping to Nursing Homes

Nursing Homes Don’t Need to be Centers for the Despondent

Dr. Bill Thomas, a Harvard-trained physician,  is no ordinary doctor and he is also not satisfied with the status quo of depressing nursing home environments.  He believes with conviction that growing old is a good thing and that people should look forward to their senior years as a last hoorah and time of flourishing.  He thinks Americans have willingly, but perhaps unwittingly, bought into a dogmatic ideology that growing old includes isolation, loneliness, and decay.  In 1991 when Thomas became a medical director of an upstate New York nursing home, he lamented at how depressing it was.  It looked to him like “a repository for old people whose minds and bodies seemed dull and dispirited.”  

 

Nursing Home Makeover

So he did something radical to shake up this nursing home.  Not only was it radical, it was a little illegal.  He filled the place with two dogs, four cats, 100 parakeets, several rabbits and hens, hundreds of plants and a flower garden.  He also added a daycare for the kids of the staff, which was a win-win for both the staff and the residents that derive joy from seeing children around.  That many animals was definitely against regulation and it made the place look a bit like Noah’s ark.  But Thomas’ results were astounding and proved to be worth it.

  • Residents’ spirits and autonomy increased; they started to dress themselves again and leave their rooms more.

  • Prescription numbers saw a sharp decrease.  They fell to half that of a different regular nursing home (for control comparison).  Drugs that treat agitation were specifically decreased the most.

  • Medication costs were slashed

  • Death rate plummeted

Thomas named this approach to nursing homes “the Eden Alternative”.  He thinks homes should be more like a garden than a hospital.  You go to a hospital to survive or to die.  You should go to a nursing home to relax and enjoy yourself and your elderly years.  This approach was successfully replicated in hundreds of institutions throughout the U.S., Japan, Canada, Europe, and even Australia.

Other Projects

There are other ideas out there revolutionizing the nursing home environment.  A William H. Thomas has pioneered the idea of building smaller, more intimate residences for the elderly, known as “green houses”.  In these green houses, residents can have their own private rooms and bathrooms.  Consequently, they had to call for a truck to pick up several of the wheel-chairs not being used.  Thomas says many residents just don’t need wheel-chairs when the nursing home isn’t impossibly big.  Currently, more than 100 Green House Project homes are operating or are being developed in 32 states.  Most are in a suburban setting, made up of town houses or ranches.  Each will have about 10 residents living together but in private rooms.  The nursing staffers don’t wear white uniforms.  And the project has a truly patient-centered approach to nursing homes, if you can even call these projects nursing homes.


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