February 22, 2022

Why hasn’t The Eden Alternative® had more impact?

by Patrick Bultema, The Eden Alternative®

Our President & CEO poses some challenging questions about where we have been and where we are headed.

It’s been almost a year since I joined The Eden Alternative® to serve as President & CEO. During this time, I’ve been fairly quiet – busy listening, learning, analyzing, reflecting, and strategizing. After all, I came to this role from outside of the Eldercare industry. Plus, I agree with the Mark Twain line, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

I often get asked, “So what is The Eden Alternative?” particularly by people outside the eldercare industry. Since I am committed to straightforward, plain language, I generally reply with something along the lines of, “Well unfortunately, care for older adults is most often something done TO elders. It’s more of a medical, institutional model of care that results in bad overall outcomes (including Loneliness, Helplessness, Boredom). The Eden Alternative is a model of care that’s done WITH elders. It’s where elders are empowered, as much as possible, to take charge of their own lives and care. And it’s an approach to care where providers PARTNER WITH Elders.” When I say that, for the most part, it sounds like an insight into the obvious. And the reaction I almost always get is, “Well who wouldn’t want that!”

But that leads to a question I’ve been asking a lot over the last year, especially now, as we are about to begin a new year. Namely, “If it's so obvious what Elders want, then why hasn’t The Eden Alternative made more of an impact?” After all, The Eden Alternative has been at it for over 25 years now. Yes, The Eden Alternative is generally known in Eldercare circles. What Eden stands for is widely respected and acknowledged. We have a larger-than-life legacy with Co-founders Dr. Bill and Jude Thomas. And the results are amazing for those organizations that have implemented the approach. This, however, leads us back to the same question: Why aren’t all organizations implementing The Eden Alternative, as their chosen approach to Eldercare?

That’s the hard question I have been asking this last year. The good news is I think we have come to some insights … insights that lead us to make changes this next year and beyond. The first insight is we have been viewed far too much as an insiders’ club, and maybe a somewhat exclusionary or cultish one at that. Our language has been unfamiliar and off-putting to some. Plus, for many, it feels like a utopian standard, a high bar, possibly too high for many organizations that are grappling with exceptional challenges – especially over the last 2 years. So, this next year, we are going to launch some major changes to make what’s possible through The Eden Alternative more accessible and create a wider variety of ways for organizations to become a part of the Eden community. We’re also going to make it possible to leverage The Eden Alternative at a level of commitment that’s realistic for organizations that are just getting started. At the same time, we aren’t going to lower the ultimate standards or goals, just make it easier to connect, and belong, and engage with what we have to offer. We believe this will broaden the reach and impact of The Eden Alternative.

We are also making changes that emphasize rapid time to value. We are transforming many of our training and content products to digital delivery that makes it easier to consume these products given the realities of busy schedules and staffing challenges. We are pulling forward many of the practices, processes, and measures that yield big results. And along those lines, we will be publishing results that make it more clearly compelling to adopt he Eden Alternative model and practices. We are also doubling down on things people are already asking for, providing more consulting and support in implementing the Eden approach.

Lest you think The Eden Alternative is struggling, nothing could be farther from the truth. We have come through this last year with great results, both in mission and business terms. In fact, we have just had one of the strongest years in the history of The Eden Alternative even given the pandemic. What’s more, this next year we are already on track to double or triple. While this is encouraging, we are driven for Eden to finally realize the results we have longed for from day one... to transform, dare I say, disrupt the care of Elders, to an empowering partnership that’s better for everyone.

We also recognize the role technology plays in our 21st century society. There has been a lot of talk about “culture change” in our industry. We have tried through training and new mindsets to change the culture of care organizations. But if that isn’t supported by software, or worse yet, if software processes and measures are working against the ideal, then the training alone will never be enough. Simply put, if you want to transform culture in the 21st century, you embed it in software. More on this to come.

Finally, we see massive changes coming to aging and the care of older adults. We see changing demographics and consumer demands pushing back on the care products the industry has been offering. We see new and surprising entries into the space. For instance, who would have predicted BestBuy entering the category, let along the tech giants. And speaking of tech, the conventional adage that older adults don’t want to use technology is a worn out cliche... clearly the baby boomers are full on digital converts. As these forces of innovation and disruption unfold, The Eden Alternative is going to be there to inject our values of empowerment and human centered well being to ensure that the future is better than the past.

So why hasn’t The Eden Alternative had more of an impact? Stay tuned. We’re about to change that!