De-institutionalizing assisted living

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By Jeff Mores Staff Writer ! [email protected]

Posted on Thursday, April 16, 2009

BENTONVILLE – With the Bentonville High School Marching Band and Choir filling the air with music, and such dignitaries as U.S. Congressman John Boozman, Sen. Blanche Lincoln and even legendary Razorbacks football coach and athletic director Frank Broyles in attendance, you know it’s a big event.

It was certainly that on Wednesday afternoon at the Legacy Village campus along Northeast J Street.

A crowd of about 100 showed up to celebrate not only the opening of a new assisted-living facility in northwest Arkansas, but the first of its kind in the state. In fact, the six assisted-living Green Houses unveiled on Wednesday are among fewer than 50 anywhere in the country.

"You’ve set a model here in Bentonville – an example that you’re always forward thinking," Lincoln said at a grand-opening celebration.

The Green House model was developed by Dr. Bill Thomas, a geriatrician dedicated to eliminating institutional-style nursing homes in America. Each of the six Green House buildings at Legacy Village provides care for 10 elders. The homes are designed around a hearth area with a fireplace, an open kitchen and a dining table for 12. All residents have their own efficiency apartments with private bath and kitchenette, but around-the-clock staff are assigned to each building. The layouts were designed in such a way that residents and caretakers can enjoy each other’s company as meals are being prepared in the open kitchen and in the commons social area of each building.

The pilot Green House project was built in Tupelo, Miss., in 2002 by the Methodist Senior Services organization, with 12 houses now in operation. There are now 50 such Green Houses across the country, six of them within Legacy Village in Bentonville. NCB Capital Impact and other organizations behind the Green House concept continue to plant new Green Houses and help existing nursing homes and assisted-living groups step away from the old format of institutionalization.

The first two Green Houses at Legacy Village opened in February, and the elders who call them home and their families are already convinced the advertisement was everything it was made out to be.

"I’ve been in other assistedliving facilities, and they don’t come close to comparing to this," said Louise Holland, one of the first residents at the Legacy Village Green Houses. "I have such peace of mind here. I feel at home. It’s a delightful atmosphere. The smells when they’re cooking and everyone being out and about – I feel like I’m living my life and on my schedule."

Holland’s daughter, Nancy Laney, was convinced of that within days.

"As a family member, I can tell you we have such a peace about her being here," Laney said. "She’s really developed since coming here. She’s doing things she hadn’t done in years. She’s forming new relationships, has energy and she loves being here. She always says, ‘If I can’t be at home, then this is where I want to be.’"

The Legacy Village Green Houses were spearheaded by an organization known as Northwest Arkansas Senior Services Inc., but it was not alone. Financing was made possible through the involvement of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Arvest Bank, the Arkansas Development Finance Authority, Federal Home Loan Bank in Dallas, Lancaster Pollard and the Arkansas Department of Human Services. And while these are the first assisted-living units of their kind in Arkansas, they are the first anywhere in the country to have worked out a plan that utilizes tax credits to create opportunities for elders to move in, regardless of their financial means.

A team of researchers at the University of Minnesota recently conducted a two-year study to compare outcomes of the Green House model with outcomes from a traditional nursing facility on the same campus in Tupelo, as well as other nursing facilities in other parts of Mississippi. The research concluded that the Green House model gave seniors more privacy and control of their daily lives, and significantly lower rates of depression were reported.

"I can remember my first trip down here to work with the folks in Bentonville," said Robert Jenkens of NBC Capital Impact. "That was eight or nine years ago. It’s been a long, but very rewarding, process. For the elders who will call the Green Houses at Legacy Village home, this is a time of new beginning."

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