Small Homelike "Green Houses" May Signal the End of Conventional Nursing Homes

A new model for long-term care called a "Green House" offers smaller and more homelike settings in which elderly patients receive care.  Green Houses differs from conventional nursing homes by having only 8-12 "elders" (patients), large private rooms with private baths, electronic patient-care records, discreet mechanical lifts built into ceilings for the severely disabled, and a family-styled dining area that enhances the community experience. 

Green Houses are also staffed differently.  In traditional nursing homes, administrators and nurses call the shots and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) do all of the grunt work.  Green Houses, on the other hand, use specially trained and empowered staff called "shahbaz" (literally, "royal falcon" or the mightiest, bravest, fastest, and most courageous of all the falcons) who assist the facility's patients with their daily needs.  Staff at Green Houses are also paid $13 an hour, or about 40 percent more than CNAs who work in conventional nursing homes.  Green Houses also have one-third more staff than most nursing homes.  

Traditional nursing homes and Green Houses are also comparable in cost, but higher expenses mean Green Houses have narrow profit margins.  However, studies show that elders in Green Houses get equal or better care than patients in conventional nursing homes and report a higher quality of life.  Staff of Green Houses and the families of patients report greater levels of satisfaction.  Read more about Green Houses. 

Staff is more satisfied . . . families are more satisfied . . . patients receive more care and have a better quality of life.  Sounds like innovation pays off, and Dr. Thomas should be congratulated for continuing to think "outside the box" to design living environments that deliver what patients, their families, and staff want.   The smaller, homelike environments of Green Houses probably do help patients' perceptions of themselves and patients' and families' perceptions of their care.

As more research is conducted, however, it'll be interesting to see if the differences in the quality of the experience for patients, their families, and staff are driven by the improved and more attractive physical environment or the better care that comes simply from having better paid and better appreciated staff who work at a facility that is not understaffed.  That is, what's preventing conventional nursing homes from making significant "Green House"-like strides in care by simply staffing their facilities better, respecting their staffs more, and paying nurses and aides what they're worth?  Happy staff = less frustration and job dissatisfaction = better care = less neglect and abuse.  Maybe a nursing home doesn't have to be green to be great . . . just willing to share the green a little more often with those in the trenches.
Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.