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Green House Homes for the Elderly

In decades and centuries past, when people got old their children and younger relatives would care for them until they died. Now, when elderly Americans are too old to care for themselves and assisted living is not an option for financial, physical, or mental reasons many are sent to live in a sterile, hospital-like nursing home. However, one geriatrician is working on developing another option for where frail seniors can live and thrive: Green House homes.

Green House Project

Dr. Bill Thomas helped to create and develop the Green House project, a model for long-term care that nurtures the elderly and helps frail seniors thrive. The project was co-founded by Dr. Thomas and Steve McAlilly of Mississippi Methodist Senior Services in 2003, and it has since spread to 27 states.

Residents of the Green House homes have their care financed by Medicare, Medicaid, or private funds. They live in private cottages with their own room and bath. When they can, residents participate in food preparation and eat in a communal space that feels more like a dining room than a cafeteria. And unlike the regimented meals of a nursing home, Green House residents are free to choose when they want to eat.

So far, there have been 167 Green House homes built by 39 different organizations, and a total of 1,735 residents live in these homes across the United States. Another 108 Green House homes are currently in development. A new documentary, “Homes on the Range,” is being produced that documents the development and mission of the Green House project. In addition, the Media Policy Center developed a 25-minute film that documents life in one Green House home that is shown to potential sponsors for similar homes across the country.

Nursing Homes in America

There has been a boom of nursing home development over the last few years, with a current total around 16,100 facilities across the United States. Yet, of the 1.5 million people residing in a nursing home, very few actually want to stay there. The common belief is that a nursing home is where you elderly loved ones go to die.

Dr. Thomas refers to nursing home treatment as “medicalization of old age,” treating aging as a disease for which there is no cure, and treatment provided in an institutional setting like a nursing home facility. Too often, sterile and impersonal institutions like nursing homes lead to an accelerated physical and mental decline in residents, where residents routinely becomes rapidly helpless, non-communicative, and catatonic.

Green House Home Difference

The Green House homes are meant to be a place where debilitated seniors can come back to life. The atmosphere is homelike, the staff is dressed in street clothes, and the seniors are treated more like residents than patients. As one staff member put it, “People who were in wheelchairs are walking again. People who weren’t eating real food are eating again. People who weren’t talking are talking again. People who were losing weight no matter what we did are gaining weight.”

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