Sustaining Seniors With The Green House Project

Here we’re talking about “green houses” of a different sort. Not ones that meet energy and materials standards (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but ones that meet sustainable human living standards for the elderly.

This is the Green House Project, a decade-old nonprofit program to build nursing homes that are, to their residents, less like institutions and more like actual homes. The health care philanthropy Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a supporter of the homes, calls the movement a “revolution in long-term care.”

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A typical Green House Project dining/kitchen setup (image from Green House Project video)

Around 150 Green House Project nursing homes have been built in the country in the past ten years, but amazingly, Florida – with a higher percentage of seniors than any other state – is just now getting its first one, according to the Sun-Sentinel newspaper.

The Florida project, about 35 miles north of Miami in Pompano Beach, will be a bit of rarity at seven stories tall, but inside it will still embrace the design principles of the Green House project and its more typical standalone homes.

Each floor of the Pompano Beach project will consist of two “homes,” with a dozen private bedrooms and bathrooms arrayed around a “hearth-like living room,” and open and accessible kitchen and dining areas. Proximity to common spaces is key.

“It’s about scale, it’s about pattern, it’s about creating a place for the rhythm of life to occur,” is the way Robert Jenkins, director of the Green House Project at NCB Capital Impact, described the general approach.

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And a living room. (image from Green House Project video)

That structural design fits with a philosophy of “person-directed, relationship-base care … in which individual needs are met because each person is deeply known and valued as creative, resourceful and whole.”

But is such a model viable economically? An NPR report earlier this year note that “Green House home costs are about the median for nursing homes nationally,” while “studies show that residents are happier and stay healthier longer.” That sounds pretty sustainable.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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