Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Helping Family Caregivers Face the Future

November is National Caregiving Month, so I could think of no better reason than to tell you about two new trends in caregiving.  And they're both good news for families.

The first is called The Greenhouse Project.  It's an international movement in humanising eldercare, but it was a small project in Wyoming that caught my eye.  Green House Living for Sheridan (Wyoming) is about as far from a traditional nursing home as you could imagine, and the residents of Sheridan like it that way.

From the Green House Living for Sheridan website:   We envision homes in every community where elders and others enjoy excellent quality of life and quality of care; where they, their families, and the staff engage in meaningful relationships built on equality, empowerment, and mutual respect; where people want to live and work; and where all are protected, sustained, and nurtured without regard to the ability to pay.

So what makes Green House Living for Sheridan (and other Greenhouse Projects) different?  A list of core guiding principles will give you an idea of how radical this project is:

Elders rule

This is the person’s home.

The individual is not the sum total of his/her age and ailments.

No decision is taken without first asking "Would a person have this in their own home? Would they do this?"

(Typical day: based on elders – eg. When people wake up, they can wake up whenever they want. They can have breakfast at 10am and choose whatever they want. They sit at a long table like  a family.)

Eldercare Solutions That Respect Family Relationships

Everyone dreads aging and becoming dependent.  Why?  We envision being isolated from our family, being forced into nursing homes where cries for help go unanswered.  Loving family caregivers worry about what will happen when dependency needs become to great to manage at home.  The founders of the Greenhouse Project designed living for elders with these concerns in mind - have a look at this video (sorry, it's Vimeo and I couldn't figure out how to embed it, so you'll have to click the link):

Activities must be meaningful, not just made to pass time.

The name Shahbazim is given to house managers (Greenhouse trained Certified Nursing Assistants) and they decide how the house will run.  Registered Nurses partner with house managers as experts, so medical model power relationships are flipped in the day to day running of the Greenhouse.  12 elders live in each home.

Middle management is diluted and the Shahbazim are trained to be full care professionals, so they manage the home as well as individual care of elders.  In the Greenhouse model, there is no dietary department or housekeeping staff.  The Shabazim multi-task as family members would at home - they are the midwives of eldercare.  Because families and community medical experts respect this model and this role, the Shahbazim have a respected and meaningful career path.

But how is it paid for?
Financing for Green House homes comes in a variety of forms.  In addition to commercial loans, Green House homes have being developed using bonds and government backed loans, as well as non-traditional loans. Through our partnerships with RWJF, AARP Foundation and The Weinberg Foundation, we are able to provide special financing for organizations serving low income elders.  To learn more about financing opportunities, visit The Green House website

The second model of care I want to tell you about today is from the UK.  U-SHED is a cooperative, a bit like AARP - each member pays the small amount of 4 Great Britain pounds to join and that money forms a fund to help seniors top up old age pensions and pay for basics that they need.  It's a model based on seniors helping seniors.  

From the website:
USHED was formed by senior citizens for senior citizens to enable us to help ourselves and make life easier without relying on the government who seem unwilling to recognise us.
By registering you become a member and we would hope to build an organisation where we can rise up and be able to offer senior citizens savings on everyday essentials and commodities. The funds will sit in a central "pot" and will be used to buy from source and subsidise services for members.
Registration forms will be available at GP offices, Post Offices, in newspapers and online.
Interested? Then please take the time to complete the registration.
Shown below is a break-down of the services of U-SHED:-
  1. For a small monthly membership fee we will enable members to save between 10 and 50% on everyday essentials such as food, insurances, community tax, gas, electric, water e.t.c.
  2. Mobile dentists, opticians and audiologists could make these routine examinations much more accessible to elderly, immobile and infirm.
  3. Funds could be used to buy larger items from source and offer them to members with substantial discounts rather than going to the high street companies who do not offer special rates for pensioners.
  4. A lot of the older generation do not like using computers or shopping online. It is rare these days to find somewhere which offers the facility to call and be able to buy in confidence.
  5. It is hoped that we will grow and eventually have enough funding to enable us to sponsor hospital wards and care homes.
The cost of the above benefits is £4 per month.

The more members we have the more savings we will be able to offer.

Stan Stearman is the founder/creator of U-SHED and he told me that UK municipal governments have begun to take a real interest in the project and are supporting it.  The fund is already helping seniors become more connected to their communities while staying in their homes longer.  

As family caregivers, we want our loved ones to have a good life.  We want to support them, but we cannot do it alone, especially when their needs increase over time.  Knowing that some communities are creatively rising to the challenge of helping families keep their senior loved ones safe, secure and happy is 'chicken soup for our caregiver souls'.

My book, The Caregivers' Living Room: Lessons I've Learned From a Life of Caregiving is available in Canada and the USA from all major booksellers.

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