Greenspring Administrator Fakes Identity, Illnesses — to Improve Services

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(SPRINGFIELD, Va.) — Oct. 20-26 was not a good week for Happy Sunshine, a patient at Renaissance Gardens at Greenspring. Aside from his name being “Happy Sunshine,” he fell at an area hospital and fractured his hip, found himself confined to a wheelchair, developed Parkinson’s disease, became 100 percent incontinent (hence for the first time in his life he wore adult diapers), had general weakness and capped off his stay at Renaissance Gardens with dementia. Despite all of the trauma, this happens to be a “happy” story.

Sunshine, who in reality is Ben Cornthwaite, the senior administrator at Renaissance Gardens at Greenspring, voluntarily stayed for a week as a resident in the very facility he manages to better understand the realities that affect real residents.

“I am a hands-on person,” Cornthwaite said. “This is the only outlet for me to get a better understanding of what Renaissance Gardens’ residents go through. I meet with dozens of residents each day and I sometimes hear undertones of things that work and those that we can improve. Staying at Renaissance Gardens allows me to immerse myself in the issues and examine our services with a critical eye.”

Cornthwaite spent two days in short-term rehabilitation, four days in long-term care and one day in the dementia unit. Confined to a wheelchair and wearing an adult diaper, Cornthwaite required assistance that would be common to other residents, including eating, transferring out of his wheelchair and taking medication (in actuality, staff administered M&Ms). As a result of Cornthwaite’s stay, positive changes are on the way.

“I took away a lot from my experience,” Cornthwaite said, “but the two biggest improvement areas are our accessibility and institutional routine.”

While Renaissance Gardens staff do a great job keeping the facilities looking beautiful, Cornthwaite said that it’s not always practical.

“What I am most passionate about after my stay is the accessibility factor,” Cornthwaite said. “Our goal is to make Renaissance Gardens more accessible for residents using wheelchairs. We need to consider the function, as well as the beauty of our design. It appears as though our residents are adapting to our design, when we should be adapting to theirs.”

Following a few tight squeezes and sore arms from wheeling across carpets, Cornthwaite is exploring ways of re-arranging furniture and making it easier for residents in wheelchairs to navigate. Due to pain on his “back side,” courtesy of a cushionless wheelchair, Cornthwaite now requires all wheelchairs to have padded cushions, unless otherwise ordered by a physician or determined by a resident.

Following some near-sleepless nights, Cornthwaite closely observed the timing and reasons that staff checked up on residents.

“I have to say that Renaissance Gardens staff is caring to a fault,” Cornthwaite said. “They do a remarkable job, but it may be too much. Do we really need to wake a resident in the middle of the night to administer medications, when we may be able to make other adjustments? Two worlds essentially collide — staff has all of these tasks that have to be performed, but we need to tailor our schedules for each resident. If it makes sense to wake a resident up, we will, but if it’s not a requirement, we need to let the resident sleep.”

Cornthwaite is now studying all of the institutional routines that could affect a residents sleep patterns, including the number of times a night that staff check vitals signs and when medications are administered.

While Cornthwaite’s experience was trying, both mentally and physically, it’s something that he would never take back.

“This was one of the best and most intense experiences of my life,” Cornthwaite said. “I personally experienced things we do well and areas for improvement. I accomplished what I set out to do — improve our services and become a better administrator.”


About Greenspring
More than 2,000 people live at Greenspring, an Erickson full-service retirement community that promotes a vibrant lifestyle. Erickson Retirement Communities is one of the leading national developers of full-service retirement communities. Headquartered near Baltimore, Md., Erickson has built an innovative network of 21 communities that combines a maintenance-free, active lifestyle with an ever-expanding host of amenities, social activities, and wellness and medical centers, proven to improve both physical and mental health. Erickson was named by FORTUNE as being one of the Top 100 “2008 Best Companies to Work For®.” The success of Greenspring has spurred Erickson to launch Ashby Ponds, a new community located in Loudoun County that opened in September 2008.

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