Kirkhaven Pathways to Meaningful Living

When I hear someone say “I hope I never get to the point where I need a nursing home”, it’s pretty obvious that, despite our best intentions to provide quality care for seniors, something has gone terribly wrong. In fact, the nursing home industry’s attempts to care for our elders, to provide safety, security and good medical care, have actually eroded their quality of life in many ways. Even with the most caring staff, nursing homes in the past have not been nurturing environments. With its hospital furniture, sterile rooms, and endless routines day after day, there has been nothing even remotely like “home” about the traditional nursing home.

How did this happen? In the 1960s, Congress passed Medicare/Medicaid legislation to fund the growing need for senior care. Overnight, tens of thousands of seniors became eligible for nursing home assistance. To meet this influx, health care providers turned to what they knew best and built very efficient, cost-effective little hospitals. And, we were excellent at providing food and housing and skilled nursing to large numbers of seniors. But five decades later, we can now see the unintended consequences of institutionalizing our seniors. Nursing home life has become associated with boredom, isolation, loneliness, depression, and deteriorating health.

Quality of life depends on physical and emotional wellbeing. Replacing the daily rhythms and spontaneity of life with routines and isolating seniors from the mainstream of the community limit the opportunity for meaningful interactions and relationships that is so critical to their wellbeing. And when the caregivers rather than the seniors themselves make life’s daily decisions, we rob our elders of their individuality, their independence and their basic humanity. The traditional nursing home may have succeeded as a business model, but it has failed miserably as a human model.

Thankfully, things have begun to change. A grassroots revolution (which began here in Rochester in 1991 as the Pioneer Movement) is quickly gaining ground. Known variously as The Eden Alternative, Green Houses or simply “culture change”, nursing homes across the nation and around the world are embracing the challenge of transforming their medical model facilities into social model homes.

The keystone of this culture change in nursing homes is person-centered care. In its effort to maximize efficiency and consistency of care delivery, the traditional nursing home sacrificed individual choice for routines and regimens. Culture change is about breaking down those barriers and empowering the seniors themselves to direct the decisions that affect their daily life.

Our dedicated team is daily challenging the mind-set of what a nursing home should be, and we have taken great strides in shifting from management-centered to person-centered care. Going forward, we will measure our success as care providers by the quality of the life of our residents.

Anne Gallese
Chief Executive Officer