A New Kind Of Nursing Home

By 2030, the population of Americans older than 65 is expected to double from about 36 million to 71.5 million. Almost half will need nursing home care at some point before they die.

So CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras went to Meadowlark Hills in Manhattan, Kan. It is a new kind of nursing home, one of only a handful nationwide, where the goal is to create a sense of home.

Resident Eloise Bourque, 87, gets to play with her puppy, Mandarin, have dinner at daughter, Lynette's, and she keeps quite busy.

"You don't feel hemmed in," Bourque says. "Even if you're older, you don't want to feel like you can't be yourself, and do fun things."

Meadowlark Hills is also a tribute to CEO Steve Shield's mother, who was a dancer.

"My mom was a really bright, dynamic person," Shields says.

Marge Shields got Alzheimer's and, after a few weeks in a nursing home, her son didn't recognize her.

"This woman who had really groomed herself and was artistic and dynamic and creative was vacant," Shields says. "She was tied in a chair, and she was hanging clear to the left. She had this vacant look on her face."

This upset shields so much that he quit his job in the oil business, took over Meadowlark Hills and moved his mother here.

Meadowlark Hills looked like a hospital then, with residents lined-up in hallways and often left alone. It was only as his mother lay dying that Shields realized how much the "institution" needed changing.

"I was suddenly hearing all these beepers, and seeing all these flashers, and nobody talking to the people who lived there," he says. "And that was when I knew, this has all got to go."

He replaced long hallways and a hospital-style nurse's station with separate households. Each house has its own living room, its own dining room, and its own kitchen. Each has a family of residents and a small staff.

The concept of a household is taken so seriously that you have to ring the doorbell to go in.

In Ptacek House, Bourque wakes up whenever she wants. And, the homemaker, Sandra Rightmeyer, cooks her any breakfast she likes.

"All the other places I've been, we made just one breakfast, and everybody was up," Rightmeyer says.

And just as she would if she were still living alone in her apartment, Bourque makes appointments, for example, with her physiotherapist.

"We're here all day long, so we can work around bingo and nails and hair and birthday parties, which we do a lot of," the physiotherapist says.

The day Assuras visited, Bourque couldn't get in at the busy on-site hair salon. But, says nurse Coleen Brown, what's most important is that it's as if a family lives here.

"We work together and laugh together. It's a lot of fun," Coleen says. "I don't feel like a nurse."

And Shields says that the old way is no more efficient or cost effective.

"If we think that hiring people and having them do specific functions and then line people up for dinner or for baths or for wake-ups is efficient, we're wrong," he says.

As for the costs, "They are redistributed," he says.

Shields is on a crusade to transform the country's 18,000 nursing homes so that some day all of them will feel more like home.
  • Tatiana Morales

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