Person Centered Care if done right always boosts the bottom line. This is a great example of how it works.

In 1997, when construction began in Brandon, Mississippi, on Peach Tree Village, a 65-unit personal care community, the management team had already decided to join the Eden Alternative Registry. So, when the doors opened in 2000, the staff didn’t have to unlearn habitual, institutional practices that can keep elder residents lonely, helpless and bored. Instead, according to Administrator Mary Kim Smith, “Ours has been — from the beginning — a community in the truest sense of the word. It’s home. It’s warm, inviting and full of life. It’s a connection, not an institution.” The Eden Alternative was established in the early 1990’s by geriatrician, Bill Thomas. Through training and consultation, organizations across the continuum of care learn how to create quality of life for Elders and their “care partners.” Mary Kim noted, “As an Eden Alternative Registry Member, our staff really get to know each resident. And, the residents know the staff. They know their children and their grandchildren. We are a family. Our community is elder-driven — the decisions are made by our residents and those closest to them.”

Problem-Solving Improves Staff Retention

From a purely business perspective, Mary Kim believes The Eden Alternative just works. “Our residents stay satisfied and our staff turnover is low. Most of our employees have been here 10 years or more. And, I haven’t hired or fired anyone in nine years.” Mary Kim explained, “When an employee is not meeting our standards, the issue is reviewed by a peer committee. Let’s say Jane is consistently late for work, a committee will meet with her. They all know each other; there’s no hiding.” Besides working together, they may go to the same church or their children may go to school together. They’ll be aware that Jayne is tardy because her car keeps breaking down. Together they try to solve the problem. They might arrange for a co-worker to pick Jayne up. They give each other a lot of chances to make things right.” Another example of Peach Tree Village’s practical application of the The Eden Alternative involved residents wanting some food items to be always available. “I was concerned about food costs,” Mary Kim said. “But because our residents selected the items they wanted, there was less waste. And they eat the things they like and choose, so we don’t have a problem with weight loss.”

Purpose Increases Resident Satisfaction

According to Mary Kim, one of her aims is to connect residents and staff to things that give their lives purpose. “We paired a staff member who loved poetry,” she said, “with a resident who’d had a stroke and was having trouble writing her poetry. They helped each other and both benefited.” “We also have a staff choral group, the Chorus of Care. One day, they were singing for our memory care residents, most of whom can no longer verbalize. But they seemed to light up and really enjoy the singing. Then, when the chorus stopped, the singing started up again in the back of the room. It was our elders, and they sang the song, word for word. It just warms us all. That’s the kind of job satisfaction our staff enjoys.”

A Soul Connection Keeps It Working

The Eden Alternative is a step-by-step process. Mary Kim believes that for a community to implement its principles it has to be warm, willing, flexible and creative. “Then, make sure the board and owners understand the essentials,” she said. “Next, ensure you have buy-in from the staff, the elder residents and those closest to them. After that, The Eden Alternative becomes a way of life: an on-going process.” She said, “Staff have to listen and be willing to really hear stories, then make connections. Everybody has to have passion — something that connects with their soul.” Pam McDonald

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