A Green House? Meet the New Nursing Home

When it comes to caring for a loved one, the Rolling Stones nailed it: You can’t always get what you want. You may want Mom, Dad or a spouse to be able to stay home, but it isn’t always possible. They may need a nursing home. What you, hopefully, can do is to control what kind of place it will be. That is why I’m mentioning Green House homes. They are a different kind of nursing home you should know about.

Rather than long corridors, a multitude of residents and roommates, central nursing stations and shared bathrooms, the Green House model looks and feels like a real home. There are just 10-12 people in each Green House, with all residents getting their own bedroom and bathroom. Bedrooms open out onto an open country kitchen, a dining room where everyone eats together around a wooden table or the cozy living room with a busy fireplace that looks like it could be in a private home. Certified nursing assistants cook all the food. Freshly baked cookies on the counter are de rigueur.

But most important, residents make all decisions they can – when they want to wake up, take a shower (at any hour) and even what they want to eat. There are no set visiting hours and families can join the group for a meal or hang out in the living room. Among the 16,100 U.S. nursing homes, 150 follow the Green House model and 150 more are in development.

Harvard Medical School-educated geriatrician William Thomas conceived of the concept and built the country’s first Green House in Tupelo, Miss., in 2003. As of October, Florida will be the 25th state with Green House homes. Most are built as a cluster of single homes in rural or suburban areas that may be part of a health care campus. The country’s only high-rise Green House is outside Boston in Chelsea, Mass. It looks more like a swanky New York City hotel than a nursing home, with 10 Green House homes that are two to a floor. Way more expensive right? No. Typically 70% of Green House residents pay with Medicare and Medicaid, a similar number as those living in traditional nursing homes.

Another fascinating comparison: The Green House Project recently analyzed data from a 2004-2009 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study involving 97 Green House residents and 158 from a standard nursing home. It found the rate of hospitalization per residents was more than 7% higher for those in the traditional nursing home. Over 12 months, there was a $1,300-$2,300 in Medicare and Medicaid savings for Green House vs. traditional home residents.

Check if there are Green House options in your area. Or watch a video from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation explaining the concept. For more information, consult the Green House Project. Read other housing and caregiving stories by Sally Abrahms and follow her on Twitter.