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Eden Alternative aims to change way nursing homes are designed

‘Healing environments’ important part of eldercare’s future

TUPELO — The McCarty Company-Design Group, P.A. (MCDG) and the McCarty Company-Construction Group Inc. (MCCG) are at work on a new mission: helping to bring eldercare to Mississippi — and to the nation.

Since 1983 McCarty has worked on various projects with United Methodist Senior Services (UMSS).

“They’re trying to get out of the box, so to speak,” said Richard McCarty — a reference to the Eden Alternative that UMSS is attempting to incorporate into its long-term care environments.

The Eden Alternative was created by Harvard-educated geriatrician Dr. Bill Thomas in 1992.

“The Eden Alternative is designed to help people transform existing long-term care environments in ways that allow them to provide a higher quality of life,” he said. “It’s a strategy for fixing some of the most important shortcomings of nursing homes as they exist.”

The new Traceway Retirement Community pilot in Tupelo, which will take the place of the Cedars Health Center, is one of several projects across the nation that planners hope will assist them in shaping the future of eldercare.

“I would say to the architects and designers that there’s a whole new world out there that’s going to revolutionize the practice of architecture in this area,” Thomas said. “They’re going to be designing and building healing environments and architects and designers need to become masters of the art of creating healing environments. That’s the bigger trend going on here.”

Thomas said Tupelo could be the first in the nation to bring the new concept of eldercare in the U.S. to fruition.

“What’s happened is that the folks at United Methodist Senior Services have really stepped up to take a leading position in the nation on this issue,” he said.

McCarty is excited that his firm is on the ground floor of the Eden Alternative.

“It’s a great opportunity to improve eldercare,” McCarty said. “We certainly hope, number one, that it will improve the lives of these residents, and if that’s the case, then we hope that will be visible to other providers in the state and they can get on this train and start changing the way it’s done.”

McCarty acknowledged that it would not happen overnight.

“One of the things we’re hoping to do here is learn some things as we move forward with this particular project,” McCarty said.

According to McCarty, the biggest challenge for MCDG and MCCG in the building of the new Traceway Retirement Community in Tupelo is accommodating the increased area per resident while staying within the project’s budget restraints.

The project calls for residents of the Cedars Health Center, a 140-bed nursing home, to be moved to 12 10-bed, 6,000-square-foot retirement homes. The new homes each have private rooms and baths and a large living area. Each home also has a functional kitchen, a large family-style dining table that seats 12 and a courtyard. Each of the homes also has room for a minimum of two staff members.

Thomas has dubbed the homes “Green Houses.” McCarty explained why.

“Our eldercare facilities of the future have to be warm in terms of environment, smart in terms of our use of technology, and green — meaning that they’re filled with life.”

McCarty said the issues from architectural and engineering standpoints are how to meet the objectives of health care regulations, what to do with old buildings and how to develop the smaller facilities that will probably have more square footage per bed while maintaining the cost restraints they will work under with smaller buildings.

Quality of life important

No matter the cost, McCarty said eldercare needs to be revamped to improve nursing home residents’ quality of life. The new facilities, he said, encourage “participation in life.”

Among Thomas’ objectives with Traceway and the other homes around the nation is that the homes overcome residents’ feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and boredom. Ultimately, the objective is for each 6,000-square-foot facility to be as much like home as possible.

“Making a 140-bed nursing home like home is like asking an elephant to dance,” Thomas said.

With the new concept, however, he hopes homelike conditions will be more attainable, he said.

Steve McAllily, president and CEO of United Methodist Senior Services of Mississippi, estimated that the total cost of the new long-term care homes would cost between $6 million and $7 million. Construction on the first phase of homes, which will include four of the planned 12, could begin as early as this summer if the Mississippi State Department of Health approves the project.

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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