Far from home in China's warm-weather Sichuan province, a delegation of business people and government officials braved unfamiliar snow for a tour of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Green House Residences in Stadium Place on Monday morning.
Snapping pictures and taking copious notes, the nine-member delegation came to Waverly to see the Green House model for elderly care, the only one of its kind in Maryland and one of only a few urban models nationwide.
They were also scheduled to visit Asbury Methodist Home, a continuing care retirement community in Gaithersburg, on Monday afternoon, and an assisted living facility in Washington on Tuesday.
Continuing care of seniors to help them age in place is a growing priority in China, which has 200 million seniors 60 and older, and 80 million with dementia, the delegates said. They said they still use a traditional nursing home model and that all of their nursing facilities combined — about 1,000 subsidized by the government and 300 privately run — meet only 1.1 percent of the need for continuing care services for seniors.
"They've just started facing this challenge," said translator Lily Chen.
The delegates from Sichuan province, population 85 million, were impressed not only with the quality of care and communal living arrangements they saw at the Green House Residences, but also with the fact that it is run ecumenically by Catholic Charities, giving the model a spiritual focus that is rarely seen in China.
"It's extremely important, but very much lacking," said Ming Liu, president and chief executive officer of Sichuan Hejiasheng Investment Management Co. Ltd., which specializes in services for seniors.
The visit was also important to Li Chun, president of the Sichuan Provincial Architectural Design and Research Institute, a government-backed institute. When asked if the Chinese government is looking for more private investment, she said, "Very much so."
Both delegates said investment by Chinese companies is spotty so far, and that few American companies are getting into the Chinese health care market. Mot of the investment so far has been by European companies, but Chen, the translator said, "It's a big market and a huge population."
The visit was co-sponsored by the Maryland Department of Aging and NASUAD, the National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities. Joining the tour and welcoming the delegation was Stephanie Hull, acting deputy secretary for the Department of Aging.
"The Chinese are really interested in how we're handling our aging people," Hull said. "This group appears to be very focused on building retirement centers and (continuing) care facilities."
Hull, representing Gov. Martin O'Malley and Secretary of Aging Gloria Lawlah, said China's problems in serving its aging populace is compounded by the government's one-child family planning policy, a population control mechanism that has resulted in fewer adult children to care for their aging parents.
For the state, the visit represented an opportunity to promote the Green House model and to tout business opportunities between the U.S. and China, which O'Malley has stressed the need for, Hull said.
"Good morning and thank you so much for coming to Maryland," Hull told the delegation in her introductory remarks. "Like you, we have a large aging population. When they need help, our goal is to try to help them get that in their homes, or in places like the Green House," so that can age "with dignity and independence."
The $12.6 million Green House Residences, which opened in April 2012 on the site of the old Memorial Stadium, was built by the Govans Ecumenical Development Corp., a nonprofit, faith-based developer of affordable housing for seniors. The four-floor, 48-room residence hall is divided into four floors, each one offering group home-style quarters for seniors, so they can live comfortably, even as they get the skilled nursing care they need.
The facility offers views of the city skyline. Each of the four floors is like a 12-bedroom apartment, with its own common kitchen, dining and living room areas called "hearths," dens for watching TV and socializing, therapeutic spa rooms and group porches overlooking Stadium Place and the Y of Central Maryland.
GEDCO operates other housing complexes at Stadium Place, too, including the Venable and Ednor apartment buildings. But since the Green House Residences require skilled nursing care, GEDCO gave management duties to Catholic Charities, which has experience in that part of the health care industry.
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The Green House model of "resident-centered care," part of a reform movement to make nursing homes more like people's own homes, is the first state-certified one under that name.
Nationally, there are Green House Residences in 25 states with 153 Green House homes on 37 campuses and 120 additional Green House homes in development, according to the nonprofit Green House Projects, a division of NCB Capital Impact, which helped finance the project in a public-private partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Weinberg Foundation, Baltimore City, the state and private donors.
According to GEDCO's website, Green House Residences fills a need for lower-income seniors who can't function independently and need long-term care, but whose options are limited to being cared for by their families or in traditional nursing homes that accept people with private insurance in multi-patient rooms. Many of the residents are on Medicaid, said Susan Stone, administrator of the Green House Residences at Stadium Place.
Stone told the delegates that each applicant for residency is interviewed at length about their lifestyles in the past, so that the staff can replicate it. Questions include whether the seniors liked to cook, sew, read or watch TV.
"We're asking what make you comfortable, what makes you happy," she said. And she added, "We have washers and dryers here, just like at home."
All of that was of interest to the delegates, who crowded into resident rooms to take more pictures.
Chen, translating for the delegates said, "The purpose of this trip is to learn about the philosophy and infrastructure (of such facilities), so they can implement it (in China) as a successful business model."