Author opposes more nursing homes
Workshops in Hawaii emphasize homelike settings for elder care
It's haying time on his New York farm, but internationally noted gerontologist Bill Thomas was here recently holding caregiver workshops and advising that Hawaii "not build more nursing home beds."
The answer to patients who are hospitalized because of a nursing bed shortage, he said, "is to make your home- and community-based services more robust."
If those services were available, he said, many people backed up in the hospital waiting for alternative care "could get back home where they want to be."
Thomas recently was cited by U.S. News & World Report as one of "America's Best Leaders" because his visionary ideas are transforming nursing facilities in the United States and other countries.
Thomas is the author of a new book, "In the Arms of Elders," that he suggests for readers who want to know more about his elder-care ideas.
"We've been able to work closely with about 300 homes on the mainland, and we'd love to see things take root here in Hawaii as well," Thomas said. "In fact, the strong family and community spirit in Hawaii makes it natural for this philosophy."
Thomas held workshops for community caregivers in Hilo, on Kauai and on Maui, and professional caregivers at Kahala Nui on Oahu.
Thomas also is trying to change the philosophy of long-term facilities, basically institutional models, through the Eden Alternative. Making them much less like a hospital and more like home "can really improve the lives of the people who live there and who work there," he said.
Surveys show that nursing homes adopting that philosophy have better staff and family satisfaction, and they can be operated for the same cost as an institutional facility, he said.
He also started a Green House Project in 2003 that he says "is another cost-neutral change in the long-term care system.
"It's really a small-scale community residence for elders. There is a lot of interest in this on Maui," he said, adding that he was meeting with people on the island who want to be the first in Hawaii to construct green houses.
"Green House says let's leave the old nursing home behind and create a new physical environment much homier than a typical nursing home can be," he explained.