By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – After a decade of lessons, the nation’s first Green Houses at Traceway Retirement Community have largely lived up to the dream.
“I really do feel like this is home,” said Clyde Biddle, whose wife Sara is one of the pioneering group who moved into the first four 10-person homes on the north side of the west Tupelo campus.
Conceived as a way to deliver skilled nursing care on a human scale that empowered elders and their caregivers, Traceway was the first place in the nation to take the model to reality.
“It’s not sterile,” Biddle said as he held Sara’s hand. “It’s not an institution.”
Traceway’s Green Houses will celebrate their 10th anniversary with a block party from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday and the community is invited. New York State geriatrician Dr. Bill Thomas, who with his wife Jude Thomas, developed the concept and helped nurture its incubation in Tupelo, will be a part of the celebration.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Marie Mister, one of the original Shahbazim – a term Thomas coined from the Persian for royal falcons to reflect the importance of the caregiver’s role in the Green House. Now there are 10 Green Houses, which completely replaced the nursing home that used to be housed at Cedars Health Center.
“We can see the difference,” said Bridget Bumpis Lee, one of the original Shahbazim, who now serves as the Traceway Green House guide, who the teams of Shahbazim report to.
In a traditional nursing home, the certified nursing assistants who provide the bulk of the direct care are at the bottom of the organizational chart. The Green Houses relies on collaborative teams that surround the elder and the Shahbaz with resources, support and tools. It’s very hard to fight the top-down culture, but it has had great rewards, said Steve McAlilly, president and CEO of Traceway’s parent Mississippi Methodist Senior Services and driving force behind the organization’s venture into the Green House concept.
“I’ve come to believe that you can’t change a culture,” McAlilly said. “You have to replace it.”
Even though the Shahbazim are doing a lot – caring for the needs of the elders, cooking and light cleaning, the smaller, human scale of the Green Houses encourages more interaction.
“In the Green House environment, there are more relationships,” said Jerry South, executive director for Traceway Retirement Community. “You don’t see those in a traditional nursing home environment.”
Traceway had been on the verge of building a new nursing home to replace Cedars Health Center when McAlilly heard Thomas speak about the Green House concept. He said it took incredible courage on the part of the Traceway and Methodist Senior Services boards to consider a new direction.
“Without that vision and openness, it wouldn’t have happened,” McAlilly said.
Mississippi Methodist Senior Services has Green Houses in Raymond and Yazoo City and more planned for its coast campus in Gulfport. Across the country, 146 Green Houses have opened; 32 states can claim a Green House project in operation or in the design stage.
“It’s not just a fresh coat of paint,” said Susan Frazier, the national Green House Project, chief operating officer. “We’re going to change the way folks will age in long-term care in America.”
The Traceway Green Houses have directly nurtured many of the projects across the country.
Patti Foldager, the Green House guide for Providence Seward Mountain Haven in Seward, Alaska, remembers being initially skeptical until she heard Bill Thomas speak and saw the Green Houses for herself in Tupelo.
“I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept,” she remembered.
A dietary director at the time, she remembers being blown away at the calm way a Shahbaz fixed an egg for a late-riser and then shared an orange with another elder.
“This looks nothing like a long-term care center,” she remembers thinking during her visit.
The Traceway Green Houses directly inspired many of the choices the Seward team made for their project.
“I wanted our houses to look like Tupelo,” Foldager said. “I wanted it to look like home.”
The change wasn’t easy, but it has been wonderful, she said.
“I think people are happier,” Foldager said. “I see more activity. I see more relationships.”
Researchers tracked the Green House residents and compared them to residents on another Mississippi Methodist campus. The Green House elders had better outcomes, better quality of life and the staff had higher satisfaction.
“It was compelling enough that Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was willing to put down $10 million,” to encourage a replication of the Green Houses in every state, Frazier said.
10th Anniversary Block Party
WHEN: 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday
WHAT: BBQ lunch, entertainment, activities, special ceremony at 4 p.m.
WHERE: Green Houses on the Traceway Retirement Community campus
PARKING: Upper Traceway parking lots and Renasant Bank on West Main Street will be available; shuttles will run to the Green Houses.