MANKATO — The values touted for Water’s Edge at Willow Brook — meaningful relationships, dignity, respect, a sense of well-being — are ones any assisted-living facility could get behind.
The difference here, said company President Bradford Bass, is the building’s style as well as the culture instilled in its employees are being tailored in service to those values.
He was careful not to impugn existing facilities, of which his company, Grace Senior Services, owns one. Called Autumn Grace, it’s just a few miles down Balcerzak Drive from Water’s Edge.
Still, he said other homes for seniors could learn something from Water’s Edge about putting their shared values into practice.
“We’re taking the first step to provide culture change in health care,” he said Wednesday at the groundbreaking for Water’s Edge, planned to open next spring.
The project is based on the philosophy of the Green House Project, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit that seeks to make senior residences more like houses and less like the medical institutions that nursing homes now resemble. Project Guide Debbie Wiegand of Arlington, Texas, was in Mankato for the groundbreaking and to train employees in the culture of the Green House Project.
There are 108 buildings in 21 states certified by the nonprofit. Water’s Edge, planned to open next spring, is the first in Minnesota.
Typically, they look like homes and fit into suburban neighborhoods. In this case, though, they are more like homes stacked on top of each other, Bass said.
Each floor is modeled like a home, with a kitchen and living room, with bedrooms for 12 people. That relatively small size and compactness allows for fuller relationships between staff and residents, Wiegand said.
The language at the Green House Project is also a bit different.
The phrase “Green House” itself isn’t an environmental or horticultural reference, Wiegand said. It’s a reference to the nurturing connotations of the color.
Organizers use the word “elders” for “seniors,” believing it to strike a more respectful tone. “There’s wisdom in those years,” she said.
Administrators are “guides,” a word that implies less top-down hierarchy. That’s another theme of the project, that staff are trained to do just about everything instead of having job duties based on chains of authority. It’s meant, in part, to avoid the “That’s not my job, I’ll go find someone to help you” line, which can be frustrating.
For example, if a resident wants a scrambled egg at night, they could be told elsewhere the kitchen is closed and they’ll have to wait for breakfast. Under this model, a staff person would be trained in how to safely store and cook food.
Teaching staff to be more “universal” is a general trend and is taught in a separate nine-credit health support specialist program at South Central College.
It’s about “trying to help people live like they would at home,” said Meghan Coleman, coordinator of the program.
If the same staff member who bathes a client also gives them medication and lunch, they can develop a better relationship.
“You get to know the resident as a person,” she said.
The course is meant for students who have already received their certified nursing assistant certificate.
On the Web: To see a more information and a video about the Green House Project, visit www.thegreenhouseproject.org.