Garden takes green approach to skilled nursing care

There’s nothing like a gourmet kitchen, plush couch and 60-inch screen television to make one feel at home. These may not be the typical images conjured up when thinking of skilled nursing care, but with Mt. San Antonio Garden’s Evergreen Villas, a new alternative to skilled nursing care debuted on Wednesday, the Harrison Avenue retirement community is shaking things up.

Through the Evergreen Villas, California’s first “Green House” concept home, MSAG officials are encouraging other retirement facilities to throw conventional skilled nursing care out the window.

The ‘gardens’ may be known for its rolling landscape and lush garden spaces, but in this case Green House, 2 words, refers to the growth of the residents inside the facilities, provided for by the establishment’s independent, house-like setting.  

“There’s a certain peace that home brings,” explained Sheila Siegersoa, one of the Evergreen Villa nurses. “You are able to be the real you.”

Garden president and CEO Randy Stoll recounted his father, a man who valued his independence, moving to the Gardens’ assisted living facility after living with his son for many years. It was there Mr. Stoll says he truly learned the power of socialization. His father’s health increased as he found a niche for himself among his neighbors. After 40 years of smoking 3 packs a day, he quit almost overnight, Mr. Stoll recalls.

However, when a lung cancer diagnosis requiring acute care forced Mr. Stoll’s father into a skilled nursing facility, Mr. Stoll remembers his father pulling him down by the tie and telling his son, in a none too direct fashion, to get him the heck out of there.

“And I know why,” Mr. Stoll said. “He lost control of his own life. He was the kind of guy who would get into his little scooter and go watch construction all day long, that’s what he liked to do.

“You have to get a court order to get out of a skilled nursing facility,” Mr. Stoll quipped.

That experience with his father served as a catalyst. With this new multi-million dollar facility—the first in California and one of about 50 operating or in development across the nation—MSAG is returning that sense of socialization, paired with the latest research, to bring skilled nursing up to date in the state of California.

“What’s right changes over time,” said Dr. Thomas. “In 1961, [the current nursing home] was a state of the art building and people were proud, and they deserved to be proud. Now, more than 5 decades later, we are taking a new journey.”

With the latest research indicating that skilled nursing facilities with a personal, home-like feel provides residents with 4 times the amount of needed social connections, MSAG set to bring the comforts of home back to their skilled nursing residents. The 2 Evergreen Villas are each 7000-square foot, open-concept facilities with large gathering spaces—living room, kitchen, den—and personal quarters for each of the house’s 10 residents. Each room also has a personal bathroom with a walk-in shower and a lift with the ability to help the resident all the way from their bed to that bathroom. Each room has large windows with views of the garden outside.

In addition to the posh living space, residents will be aided by a handful of nurses and caregivers—known as Shahbazim, an ancient Persian term meaning “Royal Falcon” for the complete guidance and care they provide to elders, from cooking to laundry to companionship.

Among the new Shahbazim is Amanda Phos, a Certified Nurses Assistant who has been hard at work at the Garden’s clinic since 2009. Not unlike many high school graduates, Ms. Phos found herself with cap and gown and no clue as to what to do once she had that Garey High School diploma in hand. On a whim, she signed up for a Certified Nursing Assistant Class through Pomona Unified School District’s Adult Career Education.

“I knew wanted to make a difference in someone’s life, to make their life more fulfilling.”

The CNA lifestyle fit the bill. At the gardens, she relishes the time spent with seniors, whether it be dressing a wound or stopping for chitchat in between changing bed sheets. Joining the Shahbazim provides her with the opportunity to take her service to another level. She looks forward to her final in-house training, where she and other members of the Shahbazim will learn all the basics of in-house care. The newlywed particularly anticipates, with nervous excitement, to the culinary classes.  

“Before I was married, I was a microwave dinner kind of girl,” Ms. Phos admitted. “I’m still not a very good cook, but I’m working on it!”

Most of all she welcomes the chance to get to know her residents on a more personal level.

“Often you don’t have the time to really sit down with them and talk, get to know their stories, what they did in life,” Ms. Phos said. “I think that’s probably one of the most exciting things we will get to do. Just spend more time with the residents.”

Arlene Crowe, a long time Claremont resident, is one of 10 residents set to move into the new home in July. While the large, stainless steel kitchen is her favorite aspect of the new home—other than its contemporary architecture—she maintains she’ll leave the cooking to Ms. Phos.

“I’m much better at eating,” she conceded.

Former director of assets and real property for Pomona College, Ms. Crowe was afforded the opportunity to travel often, but acknowledged that one of her favorite spots was just hours away from her hometown at a house she had built on the lake in Big Bear. While the Evergreen Villa is not a house on a lake, Ms. Crowe says the woodwork and modern appeal make her feel like she is back at home in Big Bear. She looks forward to further making herself at home with other Green House residents and continuing to cultivate the social interactions she has come to cherish at MSAG.

“It fills a need,” Ms. Crowe said.

MSAG officials say they have long since recognized the need for up-to-date skilled nursing care. However, as chairman of the board Amy Fass said in quoting a well-known Muppets character, “It’s not easy being green.” The road to bringing the Green House concept to California has taken nearly 6-years, fraught with dodging the state’s long-held beliefs in the way nursing homes need to be regulated.

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

Hundreds of Garden residents, supports and Dr. Bill Thomas, the man behind the Green House concept, celebrated the Evergreen Villas long-awaited homecoming in grand fashion Wednesday with tours, hors d’oeuvres and a well-earned champagne toast led by Dr. Thomas.

“To the making of a good home, the place where we belong, the people we love and the life we deserve,” he said.

Evergreen Villa residents will be chosen based on seniority at MSAG’s current skilled nursing facility. For more on the Greenhouse concept, visit www.greenhouseproject.org. More information on MSAG’s Evergreen Villas can be found on the retirement community’s website, www.msgardens.org.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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