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Green House Concept Combines Best New Thinking for Elderly


By Julia Bauer, The Grand Rapids Press 


April 14, 2009


At the Green House living center, Ingrid Weaver, vice president of operations at Porter Hills Retirement Communities & Services, shows off the homey new facility.

Within a few weeks, 20 senior citizens will occupy a pair of new Green House homes, a grounds-up concept driven by the wants and needs of the frail elderly residents.

Built largely through donations, the two homey living centers are run by Porter Hills Retirement Communities & Services, at 1049 East Paris Ave. SE, just south of Cascade Road.

The Green Houses were to be dedicated at a ribbon-cutting today.
The first residents, who already live in Porter Hills' nursing home, could move in as soon as mid-May, with all 20 rooms filled by June.

Each home provides 10 private bedrooms, each with a bathroom and built-in ceiling track for a sling-ride system from bed to bathroom.

"It's designed to look like a home and promote what folks can do, not make it difficult and focused on what they can't do.," said Ingrid Weaver, Porter Hills' vice president of operations.

For the most frail elderly, skilled nursing homes traditionally resemble a hospital setting, with an imposing nurses' station at its heart and long hallways to patients' rooms, typically with double occupancy. Above each door, a signal light marks patients awaiting help.

By most measures, a Green House turns that system upside down. It was developed by Dr. William Thomas, an upstate New York geriatrician who promoted the Eden Alternative, a movement to deinstitutionalize long-term care.

"It's the empowerment of the elders," Weaver said. "Doctors come here, but it's not the show. It's the natural rhythms of life."

Trained nurses' aides, each called a shahbaz, base their care on nurturing, sustaining and protecting.

Beyond typical care, the shahbaz cooks, cleans, does laundry, gives hugs and tries to fill the residents' desires.

"They can do menu planning together, and families can bring in recipes," Weaver said.

Such personalized service is possible because the scale is more humane.

"It's so much easier when you're serving 10 rather than when serving 100," Weaver said.

Costs for the residents are about $20 more per day than skilled-nursing private rooms, said Mark McCulloch, vice president of sales and marketing.

Porter Hills' current residents would pay $272 a day in a move to the Green House, while newcomers would pay $280. In the company's 101-bed skilled-nursing home, private rooms cost $252 for current residents and $260 for incoming residents.

A sitting room with fireplace opens onto an expansive kitchen and dining area. A special 12-seat dining room table, designed and donated by Nucraft Furniture Co., adjoins a breakfast bar along the kitchen island. Chairs were contributed by Grand Rapids Chair Co., and many other facets of the project also were donated.

Other Green House features:

A pager system to replace call lights.

Washers and dryers where each resident's laundry is done separately.

Medications stored in a locked drawer in each residents' room (no cart down the hall).

Pets permitted; birds in the room, cats and dogs on-site.

Meals cooked by a shahbaz, with residents choosing their own meal times. "It's not designed around the needs of the staff but around the needs of the elderly," Weaver said.

Environmentally savvy construction, including Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certified materials, geothermal heating and cooling and sound-deadening insulation.

This is the first LEED-certified Green House project of this type in the nation, according to builder Elzinga & Volkers Inc. It is the second Green House in West Michigan. Rest Haven Care Community in Holland opened the first a year ago.

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