New choice for elder care at Porter Hills

April 19, 2009
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Porter Hills Retirement Communities & Services last week unveiled two new $5 million buildings that will provide a different way of caring for the elderly.

The Green House concept creates a community of six to 10 residents and those who care for them in a setting that is more like a home than traditional nursing homes patterned after hospitals, said Ingrid Weaver, Porter Hills’ vice president of operations.

“We looked at quite a few different ideas that were out there nationally and we took a really good look at our health care center,” Weaver said. “We felt if we wanted to make a difference, we would have to do something radically different.”

Porter Hills, a Continuing Care Retirement Community, is moving 20 of its 101 Medicaid- and Medicare-qualified skilled nursing center beds at its Porter Hills Village campus, 3600 E. Fulton St., to the Green House buildings at the Cook Valley Estates site off East Paris Avenue SE.

The new buildings, constructed with $2.47 million in donations at a total cost of nearly $4 million, feature homelike layouts, with living areas, kitchen areas and 10 private bedrooms in each. Each building is 8,500 square feet. Construction manager was Elzinga & Volkers of Holland. They were designed by Dorsky Hodgson Parrish and Yue, Cleveland architects that specialize in senior living.

But the biggest difference may be the staff and its relationship with the residents, Weaver said. As in traditional nursing homes, the main caretakers are certified nurse aides. However, the CNAs, called shahbaz, have undergone six days of training in the nurturing style of the Green House approach. They’ll have another 40 hours of culinary training to help them take over feeding the residents, Weaver said. Instead of reporting to nurses, the shahbaz will work side-by-side with them.

“They are the ones empowered to determine what life is like. Clinical still is all taken care of, but not in a manner so obvious as in a typical nursing home,” Weaver said.

Each home will have a staff of two shahbaz and one nurse per shift, except overnight, which will have one shahbaz, she said.

“They are also getting additional medical and first aid training they don’t typically get as a CNA,” Weaver added. “They’ll have three days of home orientation. They are running the home. They are responsible for household management.”

Adding to the Green House concept are buildings constructed to Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design standards, which particularly impact heating, cooling, indoor air quality and water usage, she said. They are the first Green House buildings in the nation to seek LEED certification.

Developed by New York doctor William Thomas, the Green House concept is being propagated nationwide by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to NCB Capital Impact, a national nonprofit that is providing training and pre-development loans for the projects.

The private room rate for private pay residents at the skilled nursing facility is $252 per day, while the price for the Green Houses is expected to be $280. Green House charges may be covered by Medicaid and Medicare under the same rules that apply to the skilled nursing facility.

Weaver said she expects the development of the Green Houses, which are expected to be filled with residents next month, will allow some changes at the skilled nursing facility, which is increasingly being utilized for rehabilitation services. While currently the building offers 29 private rooms, 20 more will be created with the opening of the Green Houses, making 49 of the remaining 81 beds private. She said Porter Hills has hired an architect to consider some changes to the building. But the bigger changes may come in “cultural transformation,” she said, as Green House concepts migrate to the nursing home.

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