Dr. Bill Thomas is not a fan of nursing homes. In fact, he wants to abolish them.
Thomas is a nationally known geriatrician who believes older people are much better off living in small group homes rather than in nursing homes.
His approach is called the Green House model, and the first Green House homes in Colorado are set to open this fall in Loveland. There are currently about 160 developments across the country and many more now under construction.
Dr. Thomas says as baby boomers age, they’re not going to tolerate the traditional nursing home model, which has them living in big institutions.
“If I could make one historical prediction, it’s that the Baby Boomer generation is gonna look at living on a corridor, behind a curtain, and sharing a bathroom with a stranger and say…we’re not going to do that,” Thomas says.
The idea behind the Green House model is to have several homes clustered together in a development. Ten residents live in each home and residents have their own bedrooms and private bathrooms. They may help out with things like cooking, cleaning and gardening.
Instead of nursing homes, where strangers can walk into the front hallway, Green House homes have front doors and doorbells and preserve what Thomas calls “the sanctity of home.”
And they’re not supposed to feel remotely like medical facilities.
“We 'demedicalize' the environment. So there’s no rumbling supply carts," Thomas says. "We create a place that sounds, smells, feels like home."
Each home has a team of workers who manage the house and prepare and eat meals with the residents.
While the whole idea sounds expensive, Thomas says the model costs the same as a nursing home. And he says a large percentage of the residents will be low-income, including those at the homes soon to open in Loveland, Colo.
Green House homes are run by both for-profit and non-profit companies. And while Thomas developed the idea, he doesn’t own or manage the properties.
Thomas says he hopes that in the next few decades, big, institutional nursing homes built predominantly in the 1960s and 1970s will be a thing of the past. Except, he says, he’d like to preserve one as an example.
“I want to keep one of these buildings…as a museum someday so we can take children in there and say 'Once upon a time, grandmas and grandpas lived in a place like this.' And the kids’ll be like ‘What, are you kidding me?’" Thomas remarks.
Thomas, who lives in Ithaca, N.Y., is in Denver today on a 25-city national tour called the Second Wind Tour. The day's events include speakers and theater focused on aging.