Not a nursing home, but a nurturing home

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By Tanika White | Baltimore Sun reporter
February 24, 2008

PALMYRA, Pa. – Instead of a nursing station, the focus of activity at Castagna House is a homelike kitchen with double ovens and a long wooden dining room table.

The people who live here aren’t called residents or patients, but “elders.” Those who care for them are not nurse’s assistants or aides; each is called a shahbaz, a Persian word that means “royal falcon.” And antiseptic corridors are replaced with short, sunlit passageways leading to private bedrooms, a whirlpool bath, a living room with a fireplace and landscaped outdoor areas.

It doesn’t sound like a nursing home, and for good reason. This unusual living arrangement is called a Green House – a progressive new way to care for the elderly in their last years of life. While licensed as nursing homes, Green Houses provide care in a home, not an institutional, setting.
“I’ve been in different places, and this is the first place I felt like I wasn’t in jail. I’m not kidding,” said George Hess, 90, who uses a wheelchair to move freely throughout Hostetter House, a neighboring Green House on the campus of Lebanon Valley Brethren Home. “The way they treat me, you would think I’m the only guy here.”

Now the concept could be headed to Baltimore. This spring, a Baltimore nonprofit expects to receive approval from the Maryland Health Care Commission to start designing and planning four Green Houses, to be built at Stadium Place in Waverly.

The Green House is the brainchild of Dr. William Thomas, a professor at UMBC’s Erickson School. He believes that elderly people who require 24-hour care should live in a homelike environment, where their very basic needs – happiness, privacy, relationships – come first.
New priorities
“That might seem strange for a doctor to say that love comes first, then comes medicine,” said Thomas, widely regarded as a leader in the quest to change how nursing homes operate. “But if you really want to make a difference in people’s lives, love has to come first.”

The first Green Houses opened in 2004 in Tupelo, Miss. Since then, 35 others have opened, and, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, groups are planning additional models in 20 states – including the four in Northeast Baltimore.

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