Culture Change is for Everyone – Talkin' Bout a Revolution
The first time I met Bill Thomas was in 1996 in San Marcos, Texas. My father was living with Alzheimer’s disease and had found home in a long-term care community new to the Eden Alternative journey. In town for an interview with Dateline, Dr. Thomas showed up with cameras in tow. As I helped Dad with lunch, a bearded guy with a booming voice reached out and shook his hand. I remember thinking, “who’s this guy?” Little did I know.
Fast forward seven years later to 2003. “This guy” essentially became my boss.
My new job was to help develop a way to apply the Eden Alternative Philosophy to home and community-based care. After receiving a rash of inquiries about how they could help people living at home, the Thomases had come to the conclusion, then, that it was time to push past the walls of the nursing home. I was stoked. Having discovered The Eden Alternative as a family member, I knew what a breath of fresh air this philosophy was amidst a complex web of care services. I also knew how disempowered and alone I had once felt. I was humbled and thrilled to help find a way to engage everyone in the culture change movement.
To me, one of the most exciting developments over Eden’s last 20 years has been its application across the full continuum of care. For years, culture change has touted that organizations limit themselves when they succumb to systems based on departmental “silos.” Yet, few people have spoken extensively about how we continue to silo care across different living environments. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… culture change cannot succeed in the vacuum of a single living environment. It needs the engagement of entire communities and the active collaboration of consumers, nursing homes, faith-based communities, assisted and independent living communities, adult day centers, hospitals, home care agencies, and small group homes for those living with different abilities.
The quality of life experienced in each of these environments impacts the other. And when steps are taken to create a shared language across them that puts the person first, entire communities are empowered to support each other in incredibly meaningful ways. True mastery of culture change ideals involves an appreciation of the skills and perspectives that everyone in the community possesses to create a life worth living. Each and every one of us is a part of the solution – not just those individuals living and working in nursing homes.
By teaching about care partnership for the last several years, The Eden Alternative has created a context for this broader level of collaborative spirit and initiative. Since we are all care partners – Elders, family members, employees, volunteers, friends and neighbors alike – we can begin to see that the sense of separation between different living environments is all an illusion. As care partners, we are better prepared to protect the precious personhood of an individual, as needs change over time, regardless of the different systems that may support those needs. As care partners, we can uphold a shared vision of well-being (not just wellness) for all, recognizing that each of us can feel lonely, helpless, or bored, no matter who we are or where we live or work. As care partners, we are better prepared to hold accountable all services and systems to a higher standard – one that accepts nothing less than care based on the voices and choices of the individuals they claim to serve. Yes, even someone’s home can feel like an institution.
We’ve come a long way, but we have so much further to go. As change agents in 2014, let’s support full continuum participation in culture change by:
- Talking about person-directed care with friends and family members and telling them what they should expect and what questions to ask when seeking care and support;
- Sharing information about culture change with senior centers, adult day centers, local non-profits, Area Agencies on Aging, home care agencies, independent living communities and more;
- Creating opportunities for community education through presentations, community Learning Circles, and training (our Eden at Home initiatives offers some interesting options); and
- Engaging youth of all ages in conversations about changing societal perceptions of aging (our Embracing Elderhood and Eden Apprentice trainings engage young people in culture change).
As folk singer Tracy Chapman would say, “Talkin ‘bout a revolution.” I’m ready. How about you?