Are nursing homes destined to be understaffed medical institutions where the sick and demented sit in wheelchairs, staring and waiting to die? Is change possible?
Back in 1991, as administrator of New York's Chase Memorial Nursing Home, the Harvard- educated Dr. William Thomas decided change was necessary. Striving to eliminate "loneliness, boredom and helplessness" and to create an ambience like the "outside world," Thomas secured a $200,000 state and federal grant and initiated radical reforms.
To the normal array of hospital beds, medications and shiny linoleum floors, Thomas added "freely roaming dogs, four cats, 120 birds, flower and vegetable gardens and children." Nursing-home residents soon watered and fed their own plants and cared for the pets and birds. A children's after-school program and a day-care center became part of daily life. There was even a picnic area for visiting families.
Thomas calls his revolution a "Human Habitat" and the ensuing program, now spreading slowly throughout the country, is the Eden Alternative. Thomas presents the Eden Alternative in his book, "Life Worth Living" (VanderWyk & Burnham, $17.95), and his supporters have developed a comprehensive program designed to help nursing homes understand and develop a "Human Habitat."
"The Ten Principles of the Eden Alternative" asks traditional nursing home administrators and staff some unorthodox and challenging questions. What companionship is provided to combat loneliness? What opportunities do residents have to give care? Are plants, animals and children the axis around which daily life turns? How many residents share a dog or cat? Are residents given the opportunity to help children grow?
Equally provocative, the 10 principles emphasize a novel approach to staffing. Stressing staff education and interdisciplinary teamwork, Eden strives "to de-emphasize the top-down bureaucracy in facilities" and give maximum decision-making authority to residents and those closest to them. The principles ask: Are there planning teams consisting of residents, family members, staff and community? Are teams empowered to make decisions?
And the Eden Golden Rule states, "As management does unto staff, so shall staff do unto residents."
I can picture nursing home administrators really sweating about these proposed staff changes and the thought of 120 birds in a facility. You're probably thinking: "That's impossible. How would you control all those animals? What about infections and allergies? What would the State Department of Health Services inspection team do?"
At Chase, infections and allergies actually decreased, as did medication usage for depression, anxiety and agitation. Furthermore, Debbie Cavallo, Eden's enthusiastic head of Western Region 8, said both residents and staff do well under the changes. In one facility, staff turnover was reduced from 106 percent to 12 percent. Also, studies of "Edenizing" facilities by the Southwest Texas State University Institute for Quality Improvement in Long Term Health Care have reported decreases in pressure sores, medication usage for anxiety and depression and staff absenteeism.
Thomas' book describes how he won over the New York State Department of Health Services and the Regional Surveyors office. Surveyors were so impressed with Eden's results, they "overlooked" the 137 animals. Additionally, the state passed legislation that permits nursing homes to pursue all aspects of the Eden Alternative.
Perhaps, as Eden's mission statement says, it can be different. More nursing homes should consider joining the growing coalition of homes that are "habitats for human beings rather than institutions for the frail elderly."
For more information, call Debbie Cavallo at 619-484-1661, or check out the Eden Alternative Web site at www.edenalt. com. Or contact the Eden Alternative, 742 Turnpike Road, Sherburne, N.Y., 14360; or phone 607-674-5232.
Mary B. Moorhead is a licensed family therapist and elder-care specialist. Write to her at 1664 Solano Ave., Berkeley, Calif. 94707. Or e-mail her at email@example.com.
Fitness program: Take a six-week low-impact exercise program and improve overall fitness, muscular strength and flexibility, Tuesdays and Thursdays from Tuesdaythrough Nov. 2 at 2 p.m. at Good Samaritan Hospital, 5601 Loch Raven Blvd. $45. Call 410-532-3838 to register.
Art show: A judged showing of works by Howard County Art Guild members will be on view Tuesday through Oct. 28 at the Florence Bain Senior Center, 5470 Beaver Kill Road, Columbia. Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Opening reception from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Call 410-730-6257. Y2K talks: Learn about the ramifications of the coming millennium at lectures through October at the Senior Network of North Baltimore, 5828 York Road. On Friday at 2 p.m., a nutritionist tells how to stock your kitchens, and on Oct. 8 at 2 p.m., a representative from Social Security discusses how Y2K will affect monthly checks. Free. Call 410-323-7131.
Action-in-Maturity events: AIM sponsors a talk on "The Good Life -- What Is It?" at 11 a.m. Oct. 4 at 3838 Roland Ave. Lunch will follow the talk. Lunch is $1.50. Call for reservations by Sept. 30. AIM sponsors a free hearing screening at 9 a.m. Oct. 5 at Brentwood Apartments, 401 E. 25th St. AIM sponsors a nutritional seminar at 1: 30 p.m. Oct. 8 at 3939 Roland Ave. Call 410-889-7915 for all events.
Glen Meadows Retirement Community: Events through October include the AARP Entertainment Notables Oct. 5 and Y'All Oct. 12. All shows at 7 p.m. at Glen Meadows' Great Hall, 11630 Glen Arm Road in Glen Arm. Free. Call 410-592-5310.
Senior Expo '99: Food demonstrations, senior job fair, senior breakfast, more than 135 exhibitors, fitness activities, health care information, live entertainment, more, during the expo, Oct. 6, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Oct. 7, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, York Road in Timonium. $5 admission. Call 410-887-2594. "Tips for Healthy Eating": The Maryland Cooperative Extension sponsors the program at 7: 30 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Agriculture Building, 9811 Van Buren Lane, Cockeysville. Free. Call 410-666-0445 to register.
Program for Alzheimer's Disease patients: Adults ages 40 to 65 who are living with Alzheimer's Disease and other forms of dementia can join the support group Morning Out Club every Monday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for coffee, conversation, an excursion to an area attraction and lunch. The club is staffed by Keswick Adult Day Care professional and trained volunteers. Call 410-662-4310 for details.
Tai chi for seniors: Take classes in Tai chi every Tuesday from 3: 30 p.m. to 4: 30 p.m. at Senior Network of North Baltimore, Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Retired Persons, 5828 York Road. $12 for a 12-week session. Call 410-323-7131. Tai chi classes are also offered from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays at Roland Park Place, 830 W. 40th St. $12 for 10 sessions. Sponsored by Action-In-Maturity. Call 410-889-7915. Also, tai chi classes are offered Thursdays at 9: 30 a.m. at the Overlea Fullerton Senior Center, 4314 Fullerton Ave. $20 for 10 sessions. Call 410-887-5220 to register.
Photography exhibit: Photography and art by retired professional and amateur artisans will be on display through November at Broadmead retirement community, 13801 York Road. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Free. Call 410-785-7723.
Senior classes: The Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore's new Helene and Leslie Moses Institute for Lifelong Learning, for men and women ages 55 and over, has just opened its doors and offers classes, programs, field trips, social activities and events at both JCCs throughout the year. The fall semester begins tomorrow. Call 410-356-5200, Ext. 324.
Computer whizzes needed: Computer teachers are needed to offer instruction to seniors at day and evening classes at the Pikesville Senior Center, 1301 Reisterstown Road. Call 410-887-1245.
Legal services: The Bar Association of Baltimore City and the Baltimore City Commission on Aging and Retirement Education offer free legal service for city residents ages 60 and over. Call 410-396-1322 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For calendar listing, please send typed news releases four weeks in advance to Lori Sears, Features, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.