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NPR Story: Time to “Abolish” the Nursing Home

It is no secret that the country is aging. More Americans are retiring and drifting into their golden years now then ever before. What’s more is that there is not a similarly-sized generation, meaning the percentage of elderly individuals is rising sharply.

All of this is leading many to evaluate the current state of elder care. As the population ages we will undoubtedly need more and more resources to provide the care that often comes with old age. For many, this is the first time that they have seriously considered the senior caregiving system in the United States–and many do not like what they see.

In fact, calls to create alternatives to the traditional nursing home system are louder now than they have ever been. For those who have sharp criticisms of the care provided to residents in these skilled nursing facilities, the idea of tens of millions more elderly loved ones being pushed into these facilities is frightening. As elder law attorneys often explain, the nursing home is usually the “last resort” for good reason.

Paradigm Shift?
Some are calling for an essential abolishment of the nursing home in favor of other caregiving models. An NPR article last week explored one of those alternatives. The story discussed “The Green House Project.” Technically, these facilities are still nursing homes, but they offer some change that advocates say make all the difference. Thus far about 140 “Green Houses” have been built, spanning about half the country (24 states).

These Green Homes are focused on banshing the “institution-like” nature of traditional facilities in favor of personalized care that resembles actual family homes. This is not just a physical characteristic, but something that alters the role of the employees as well. Instead of classic divided roles between nurses, aides, cooks, and other, the Green Houses are filled with employees who each have a variety of obligations, from cooking meals to simply spending time the elderly residents. The caregivers even eat at the same tables as the residents. The quality of the care is far superior because of the staffing levels. At most of these facilities, each caregiver only has a maximum of 12 residents. That compares to individual employees with 30 to 40 residents for whom they must provide care. All residents have their own room, private bathroom, and can live on their own schedule.

While the Green House model seems far superior, there is one obvious problem: the cost. Surprisingly, the cost of many Green Houses are similar to that of traditional nursing homes, at least according to the NPR report. The real problem is quantity. There simply are not enough available homes to accommodate the need. With the aging population, the discrepancy between the supply and demand may very well increase.

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