Home Sweet Home

Many people think nursing homes are institutions of isolation — sad and sterile with a surly staff — but a new breed of care centers has older Americans playing with dogs, drinking beer and enjoying a lively environment.

Lawrence and Anne Zanni have been married "68 glorious years," according to the couple, and rave about their current home, the Elmhurst Extended Care Center in Providence, R.I.

"Everything is so good. The people are wonderful. And the food, I give it a 10 rating," Lawrence said.

Elmhurst is part of a revolution against the traditional nursing home.

At Elmhurst, seniors control their own schedule, hang out with local kids, drink beers at the pub and commune with a puppy whenever they want.

"The biggest pain in nursing homes is caused by loneliness, helplessness and boredom," said Richard Gamache of Elmhurst Extended Care, which offers different levels of care for seniors depending on their medical condition.

Another inventive care center offers cozy homes with just 10 residents apiece, including 97-year-old Vance Tate, who lives in a private room and has the ability to bring her own furniture to the location.

Tate's daughter says the arrangement helped her to not feel guilty about moving her mother to Green Houses, a care center in Tupelo, Miss.

"It's wonderful, it really is wonderful here," said Rosemarie Coley.

"It is a good place," Tate added. "It's just like home."

Happier Residents and Staffers

At Green Houses, the entire facility was arranged to forge better relationships between the staff and its residents, so the rooms are not built around a nursing station; instead, they're built around the kitchen.

The residents are not the only ones to benefit from this arrangement — staff turnover is far lower at Green Houses, which opened in 2003, compared with other nursing homes. The employee turnover rate is 10 percent, compared with a more typical 90 percent for nursing homes.

Caregivers like Glenda Buchanan said they have been encouraged to develop the type of patient relationships they never could achieve at traditional nursing homes.

"I didn't know them — no more than getting them up, getting their clothes up and stuffing a pill in their mouth," Buchanan said.

Proponents said these new styles of nursing homes are no more expensive than traditional homes, but the concept is new and it will take years to change the massive industry.

Eventually, they predict, all nursing homes will be places where you go not to die but to live.

For more information contact: www.edenalt.org

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