Could The Green House Project be the JetBlue for elder care?

I suspect that the primary emotion most commonly associated with the experiences of residents and caregivers in today's senior care facilities is not, by a long stretch, Love. However, this is the idea behind the Green House Project, and an idea both simple and revolutionary that it has the potential to be a real game changer.

Unfortunately, all-too-common grisly stories of deviant miscreants and rapacious profiteers have created a dark patina across the space tarnishing many outstanding organizations working hard to provide safe and efficient housing for those in need of care and / or nearing the end of life. Working in these facilities often calls for thankless and distressing tasks by the workers, and requires the patience of Job. However it is big business - a $100bn enterprise in the US alone in 2009, up 20% from 2005 according to research quoted in the Economist.

The Project offers a different approach to this important and growing market from the commoditization and scale game that seeks efficiencies. This one seeks compassion first, and lets the numbers come later, as their description explains:

THE GREEN HOUSE® Project creates small, intentional communities for groups of elders and staff to focus on living full and vibrant lives. This Model is a radical departure from traditional nursing homes and assisted living facilities – altering facility size, interior design, organizational structure, staffing patterns, and methods of delivering skilled professional services. Each Green House home is unique, but all are intimate spaces, with warm interior designs and staff that help elders live better and with more independence. In a Green House home, elders receive a high level of personalized and professional medical care and support with daily living, without feeling that their lives are being disrupted or overtaken. The Green House model replaces large, impersonal, nursing facilities with inviting, comfortable, social living spaces that research shows help elders to live happier, more satisfying lives.

I was told about this project by several people at TedMed, when I was asking for innovations in the aging space. All roads led to Robert Jenkens who works for Arlington, VA-based NCB Capital Impact, a non-profit and Community Development Finance Institution that works to improve access to high quality healthcare for low-income communities. Robert's the Director of the Green House Project at NCB Capital Impact and, working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, seeking to accelerate the roll out of this model to effect much-needed change throughout the country. I interviewed him about the project under the California sunshine, and he gives a short summary here:

This is radical stuff. There are two big stories here. First, that it's not only possible but desirable for all involved to shift the focus from managing resources to creating experiences. The founder of the initiative, Dr. Bill Thomas from ChangingAging calls it a switch from putting the doctors and staff in the center, to the patients. And that changes everything. The other takeaway here is that providing higher quality of life for residents and workers is NOT significantly more expensive, in fact the team recently produced a paper that suggests that the shift to these smaller, more humane experiences are cost neutral, or better. And they tend to increase occupancy rates.

The Greenhouse Project came out of Dr. Thomas' work with the Eden Alternative, an organization aiming to change the experience of aging that he started almost 20 years ago. As of Q1 2011, there were 97 homes across 17 states, and they're growing fast. For more info, have a look at the powerful video below (it's 18 mins, but goes quick): Where Love Matters. Sure, all this love sounds a bit hokey, but when you see it, and the reactions of the residents and staff, I suspect that you too will be going, hang on, why aren't all care homes like this? As my colleague Emily points out, the 'silver set' needs a fresh, bold, consumer-centric brand that could do for the space what JetBlue did for airlines. As a concept, the Green House Project is very much in-line with the 4sum shared community living idea that we proposed earlier, though targeted at residents requiring more expert care. This could be a JetBlue, and heaven knows, we need quite a few in this space. We'll be watching their continued progress with interest.

Where Love Matters from The Green House Project on Vimeo.

Where Love Matters from The Green House Project on Vimeo.


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