Tupelo celebrates Green House milestone

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The Tupelo Green Houses were overflowing with birthday wishes on Sunday.
Rain forced the 10th anniversary block parties inside the Green Houses on the Traceway Retirement Community campus in west Tupelo, but there were plenty of smiles and hugs to go along with the cakes.
“I’ve been here since it opened,” said Jim Johnson, who was recognized during a ceremony Sunday, along with Sara Biddle and Viva Whitenton as pioneering elders who moved into the original four houses in the spring of 2003. “There’s a lot of good people who live here.”
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 Green House model to reality.
“The Green Houses in Tupelo have inspired a lot of people to make changes,” said Dr. Bill Thomas, who created the concept with his wife Jude Thomas, and helped to nurture it in Tupelo.
There are 146 Green Houses currently in operation, and 32 states can claim a Green House project. But Tupelo’s Green House legacy goes beyond projects directly affiliated with the Green House Project to other “small houses” and to those working to make traditional nursing homes a better place for elders and the people who care for them.
“This is a real revolution in this field,” said Thomas, who traveled from New York to join the Tupelo festivities. “…Tupelo Green Houses represents the pinnacle of this kind of reform work.”
There’s no fountain of youth in the Tupelo Green Houses, but they are full of life, said Steve McAlilly, president and chief executive of Mississippi Methodist Senior Services
“We can’t stop aging,” McAlilly said. “But we can help people continue to live.”
In the beginning, the changes were overwhelming, but hard work has been rewarding, said Cathy Swingrum, one of the 10 original Shahbazim still on the Traceway staff. Thomas coined the term “Shahbaz” from the Persian for royal falcon to reflect the importance of the caretaker’s role.
“I just love it,” said Swingrum. “I enjoy taking care of the elders. It seems like they’re at home here.”