Replacing a Nursing Community with Green Houses: Part II

Ideas about changing the nursing care at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC) began when carpets were replaced in one of the memory neighborhoods. For several days residents with memory disabilities spent their waking hours visiting a more home-like assisted living area. The caregivers immediately spotted a change — people from the memory neighborhood were more engaged in the activities and more active. The visitors even asked if they could stay.

Looking Toward the Shenandoah Mountains from a Valley Farm

President/CEO Ron Yoder walked over to see for himself and was deeply moved. He began thinking more about physical environments and how they affect the lives of elderly residents at VMRC. So over a number of years the philosophy of the Harrisonburg, Virginia, continuing care retirement community nestled in a valley in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia, began to evolve. Eventually a plan emerged, one that imagined ten residential houses for people who require  nursing care, but with the medical care functions masked and the “just like home” aspect emphasized.

VMRC connected with Eden Alternative (read the 10 principles) and the Pioneer Network, two organizations dedicated to moving long-term care away from a medical model. Both groups support the development of welcoming, community-based settings where both older adults and their caregivers make choices and enjoy independence (and use of the word “neighborhood” as opposed to word like “unit”). Choices that stress community are everywhere at VMRC, and residents — even those who need nursing care — get to make them, enjoying gardens, musical events, connections with the university next door, residential care areas with a minimum of long halls, nursing areas that do not dominate, social activities with town residents on a regular basis, and even a rehab and wellness center shared by residents and members of the Harrisonburg community. Read about VMRC resident-centered initiatives.

Thus, with institutional and staff commitment to Eden and Pioneer social change solidly in place, VMRC moved on to thinking about how nursing care might be changed even more. Consideration was given to renovating Oak Lea, where residents who need nursing care currently live, but that option did not enable enough cultural change. Suggestions from the community were solicited — ideas from the employees and other stakeholders came in, and finally and a vision and philosophy developed. Green House Homes, the care concept developed by Dr. Bill Thomas, are the answer.  VMRC is raising money for Phase I — three homes — and building plans are ready to go.

Typically, as people age in their homes or in any continuing care community such as Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, they look at a nursing facility and think, “I really don’t want to go there.”  With the addition of Green House® Homes, Melissa Fortner –she is leading the Green House Project at VMRC — wants to change that thinking. Her goal is for people to see the new Green Housing community and think, “I can live there, because it will feel like home.”

In my next post, I’ll describe specific plans and post drawings for Green House® Homes project at VMRC.

To learn more please read these posts about Woodland Park Green House Homes, a new community at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community.

14 thoughts on “Replacing a Nursing Community with Green Houses: Part II

  1. Thanks again Marti for bringing new and vital information to the forefront. I’ve just finished reading What Are Old People For? (did I tell you this already?) Anyway, the idea of living spaces for the very old that don’t put medical intervention at the center of all life, but rather emphasize instead relationship, love and support and community–this is what we all need to begin hearing about. I hope these options will be widespread by the time I am ready.

    Inside Aging Parent Care


  2. As a volunteer I counsel and listen to family caregivers every week. Most of them unknowingly have created a home and care model that has all of the hallmarks of Dr. Bill’s Eden Care protocol for their own loved one. Many of them are not aware that there is an alternative, or that there is a movement in healthcare towards person centered care. They all, myself included, know instinctively this is the type of care that works. It is the type of care that we would choose for our own future, and that of our grandchildren.


  3. Hi, Marti! Congratulations on your blog and your celebration of the Green House movement and the Eden Alternative. As a geriatric/medical social worker who has worked with caregivers for the last 28 years, I am so grateful for these principles and this amazing movement. I’ve become an “Eden at Home” Educator to help support culture change for Elders and the care partner team working at home, to try to keep elements of the institution from creeping into the home. It’s a beautiful philosophy, and I’ve been blogging about it at my website, too. Keep up the good work!


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