Green is the new silver–and gold

The two foci of my life are: mitigating global warming and improving long-term care. These are related, because both are essential quality of life issues.

COVID itself is related to global warming because as habitat for bats and other wildlife decreases, human/wild creature interactions increase, to the detriment of both. Restoring native plant habitats all over the world will do a great deal to slow down warming and potentially decrease the chance of pandemics from interactions with and consumption of wild creatures. Plus, intact forests are one of the more gigantic carbon sinks on this planet. 

Greening long-term care also has the potential to minimize the risks of COVID for both workers and residents of nursing homes, which have suffered 40% of the incidence of COVID in this country and one of the highest rates of mortality so far (Winter 2020). By greening I refer specifically to “Green House” homes, the brilliant model created by Harvard-trained MD Bill Thomas. Who among us wants to live in a small double-occupancy room with a stranger and a shared bathroom? Not only is this a recipe for conflict (particularly if dementia is involved), it’s also a petri dish for COVID and any other infection you can think of.

For decades my fellow gerontologists and other experts in this field have worked for improvement of nursing homes by teaching and action to create smaller, more homelike settings where staff and residents have real relationships. The Providence Mount St. Vincent in Seattle created this, even with a huge facility, by creating ‘neighborhoods’ on each floor with a small group of residents in rooms around a central dining, living, and hanging out area. Dr Thomas’ model involves small groups of eight to 10 in group homes with private rooms around a central kitchen, dining, and relaxation area. Variations abound, but the key is intimacy, relationships, and a physical and emotional sense of home. Washington Post (11/3/2020) did an insightful article about this https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/green-house-nursing-homes-covid/2020/11/02/4e723b82-d114-11ea-8c55-61e7fa5e82ab_story.html. With the right reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, as well as increased respect for the elderly and the workers who help them, it can be cost-effective. Ageism and racism are part of the reason most people haven’t even heard of this model. Our society has disrespected the immigrants, the women, the people of color who dominate caregiving, and we’ve disenfranchised older people as a culture as well.

I think with our new administration coming in January we may be able to do more about this. Systemic racism is no longer acceptable and distain for older people and their caregivers is on the wane.

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