'Green Houses' coming to Vernon

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VERNON — Next year, Vernon Homes, a senior living community in Vernon, will be celebrating its centennial. Over the past 100 years, Vernon Homes has grown to serve 60 people in its nursing home, 45 people in its assisted living facility and 15 people in its independent living units. And over the years, the model of elder care Vernon Homes has offered has changed and it continues to change.

"We are doing away with the traditional organizational chart that has administration and the board at the top," said Brad Ellis, the executive director of Vernon Homes. "Any traditional organizational chart is a top-down chart with decision-making trickling down to the licensed nursing aides and dietary aides. And nowhere on that chart is the elder."

That seems a little ludicrous to Ellis, who wants to empower his staff to provide the kind of model that puts the residents at Vernon Home at the center of their own care.

Recently, Ellis hosted an informal presentation to town officials and residents about how he and the board plan to flip the script on elder care in Vernon. To make that happen, said Ellis, Vernon Homes is adopting the "Green House" model, an organization that offers guidance to replace the institutional nature of care with "a consistent, family-style atmosphere within each house."

Ellis said as part of adopting the model, Vernon Homes is in the preliminary stages of designing a new community on its 17-acre campus with six buildings, each one containing private bedrooms and bathrooms for 10 people.

The plan calls for common dining and living areas "that promote socializing and a family environment," states a press release from the Green House Project, a non-profit organization that was established 15 years ago "to lead the transformation of institutional long-term and post-acute care by creating viable homes that [demonstrate] more powerful, meaningful, and satisfying lives, work, and relationships," according to its mission statement.

Since it was established, the Green House Project has facilitated the construction of 284 homes in 32 states.

Ellis, who's been with Vernon Homes for more than 20 years, said the six buildings are meant to replace the 60-bed Vernon Green, which will be partially demolished when the new homes are finished, hopefully in the spring of 2021.

But Ellis said adopting the Green House model is not just about making physical changes to the facilities.

"There are three core values of the Green House model," he said. "It's about providing a real home with care that is centered on the residents and their needs, and it's about empowering the staff. You can do any one of those three things but until you combine all of them together, that's when you invoke a cultural change. And when you change the culture, you are changing the way the residents are served and their delivery of care."

Those that work directly with the elders will be empowered to work with them to make decisions about day-to-day life, Ellis said.

"They know the residents well enough to know what time the resident wants to get up, what the resident wants for meals, when they want to go to bed, what activities they want to participate in and when their family is coming to visit," he said.

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The rest of the staffers at Vernon Homes will provide support services to the LNAs who, with the elder at the center of the decision-making process, will guide their care.

"It's their deep knowledge of the residents that has been shown to improve the life of our residents," said Ellis.

Vernon Homes currently employs 110 full- and part-time staff members. Many of those who are providing direct care to the 60 residents of Vernon Green have been in training for nearly a year since Vernon Homes signed on to the Green House model.

"Training is a key component of what we are doing," said Ellis. "We expect to do some heavy training over the next couple of years."

He said all of the employees at Vernon Homes are excited for the change. "They are looking forward to it."

Vernon Homes has been in Vernon since 1920 and is a member of Advent Christian Retirement Communities, a non-denominational organization that also operates Meetinghouse Village, an independent senior living complex in Kittery, Maine.

Along with the six new buildings, the preliminary plan also calls for a unified wastewater facility and one culinary water well for the entire complex. Right now, Vernon homes has two aging wastewater systems and wells that it hopes to replace.

Vernon Homes has partnered with SWBR, an architectural firm in Rochester, N.Y., with experience building Green House projects, as well as the civil engineers at Stevens and Associates in Brattleoboro, and Cutler & Associates, a general contractor in Worcester, Mass. While Vernon doesn't have zoning that would regulate the construction of the new buildings, Vernon Homes must receive an Act 250 environmental permit and must submit a certificate of need application to the Green Mountain Care Board.

Ellis hopes to fund the $15-million project through a variety of sources, including federal funding, grants, a capital campaign and by taking out a commercial loan.

"We want to provide an environment that empowers the staff and gives the residents the ability to grow, no matter where they are, either in a physical or cognitive perspective," said Ellis.

Ellis and the board of Vernon Homes hopes to start the capital campaign before the end of the year, but people who would like to donate early or get involved in the campaign should contact him at brad@vernonhome.org. To learn more about Vernon Homes, visit www.vernonhomes.org. To learn more about the Green House movement, visit www.thegreenhouseproject.org.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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