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Gardens unveils latest ‘Green Houses’

California is revolutionizing skilled nursing, and Claremont’s Mt. San Antonio Gardens (MSAG) is leading the movement.

Over the weekend, the local retirement community unveiled construction on the state’s first pair of “Green House” retirement facilities, community-style homes for those in need of specialized nursing care. The 2 new houses, now halfway finished, are expected to open this April.

The multimillion dollar project—dubbed the Evergreen Villas because of the trees that grow on the property—began in March, replacing 4 single-family homes on land adjacent to the Gardens on Harrison Avenue and Taylor Drive. However, while the demolition and construction itself kicked off early this year, MSAG administration, board and residents have been hard at work for nearly 5 years working to provide residential housing for seniors in need without the sterile, hospital setting. This sweeping 14,000-square-foot project brings that vision to life.

“We are trying to humanize end-of-life care,” said Randy Stoll, MSAG’s president and chief executive officer. “It’s the way you would care for your parents in your own home if you had the ability and the skill.”

The name “Green House,” though somewhat misleading, represents the growth residents experience because of the independent nature of their living environment. Though caretakers are available for the ill, and an on-call nurse is also provided, residents are able to live in a less structured environment. The Evergreen Villas include private rooms, each equipped with a private bathroom, a family-style kitchen and the ability for residents to choose their meal times instead of being forced into a regimen. Socializing is encouraged and the typical hospital norms—nurses’ stations, trayed, cafeteria-style dinners and confined space—are thrown out the window.

“This is a revolutionary idea for the care of the chronically ill,” said Dr. Robert Tranquada, former MSAG board member and garden resident. “It moves the experience from one of being in an institution to being a part of a family.”

Residents will be dressed in “street clothes” and allowed to decorate their living quarters with their own furniture, an aspect traditionally not allowed in hospitals. While nurses will be available around the clock, the villas will not be cluttered with nurse stations. Instead, each 7,000-square-foot villa will house a large community gathering space, a den, laundry facility, patio area and spa, complete with a relaxing, jet-laden Jacuzzi.  

“It’s proven to be calming to those with dementia,” Mr. Stoll explained.

Though a relatively new concept, Green House projects are gaining speed throughout the nation. More than 30 Green House facilities are currently operating across the country, with nearly 20 more in some stage of development or construction. Struck by how Green House could provide a better tool to deliver the quality MSAG aspires to deliver, Mr. Stoll and others at MSAG took a trip to a Green House facility in Nebraska to check out the concept firsthand.

“I was just deeply impressed with the profound difference in the spirit of the institution,” Dr. Tranquada said. “It was as if we were visiting a family home instead of a care facility.”

While Mr. Stoll is thrilled to be leading California’s Green House movement, the “newness” of the Green House concept has posed a significant challenge.

“The [Green House] model is alien to the state,” Mr. Stoll explained. “Regulations for nursing homes are very specific and have been that way for years.”

While the process of changing California nursing care has been long and laborious, those associated with MSAG’s efforts are pleased to report that financing the project has not been a source of trouble. Within 3 months’ time, Green House committee members had raised the necessary funds to see the process through to completion, according to Georgia McManigal.

“We are professional fundraisers,” she joked.

Ms. McManigal, who toured the construction site for the first time over the weekend with others who have contributed to the project, knows her time and money are well-invested in a project like the Evergreen Villas, where she hopes to reside one day. The active lifestyle the Evergreen Villas will provide meshes perfectly with MSAG’s involved residents, she says.

Each villa will include space for 10 residents, who will be chosen based on seniority at the Gardens’ current skilled nursing facility. As demand grows, MSAG may expand to include more Green House facilities like the Evergreen Villas. For now, MSAG administrators are simply happy to see current plans finally underway.

“For those who work in this industry, it truly becomes a passion. Seeing [the Green House concept], it just became clear that it was the right thing to do,” Mr. Stoll said. “It is a way for us to provide our residents with the dignity they deserve.”

For more on the Green House Project, visit www.thegreenhouseproject.org. More information on MSAG’s Evergreen Villas can be found on the retirement community’s website, www.msagardens.org.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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