By Woody Woodrick
YAZOO CITY — About 15 years ago, Steve McAlilly told a group of Yazoo City residents news they didn’t want to hear — that United Methodist Senior Services would not be building a retirement community in their town.
McAlilly, president and CEO of United Methodist Senior Services of Mississippi, Inc., on Sept. 23 reminded some 100 people of that meeting at the beginning of a consecration service for the Martha Coker Green House Homes operating by Senior Services. The homes are the result of a partnership between Senior Services and the Martha Coker home.
“Fifteen years ago, things didn’t work out,” said Frank Patty Jr., who serves on the boards of directors for both organizations. “The Martha Coker home needed a new facility and had some challenges, and then Senior Services got involved.”
In addition to buying into the Green House concept, those involved agreed to raise $2 million to fund the project. Martha Coker staff will work at the Green Houses, which will operate as a Senior Services.
While it came later than hoped, the opening of the Green Houses puts this community among those on the cutting edge of elder care. Although designated as nursing homes by the state, Green Houses are designed to move skilled nursing care from an institutional model to one of a home. Each of the six homes will house 10 residents.
“Green Houses give elders a new perspective on life at a time when many don’t have anything to look forward to,” Patty said.
About 100 people attended the consecration services, which was led by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward. Those attending also had the opportunity to visit one of the homes.
Each home features 10 bedrooms, a hearth room, den, dining area where residents sit around one table, kitchen, laundry room and spa. Meals are prepared in the home and residents are welcome to assist in the cooking and serving of meals.
The staff in each home includes several Shahbaz (elder assistants) who provide care, a volunteer sage who assists the shahbaz, a clinical support team and a guide who administers the facility. Residents also form a house council which will help with day-to-day decisions.
Although the concept originated with Dr. William Thomas in New York, Senior Services opened the first Green Houses in the nation in 2003 in Tupelo and now has 12 Green Houses. In addition, the Riggs Manor campus in Raymond has two assisted-living Green Houses, the first in the nation. The Martha Coker Green Houses, when complete, will be the first stand-alone Green Houses in the nation.
The first three homes in Yazoo City should be completed by Oct. 3. Move in date for the current residents of Martha Coker is Nov. 1. The other three houses should be completed by March 1.
The concept has been so well received by the elder-care community that Senior Services has welcomed observers from around the world and offered training in operating Green Houses.
A two-year study conducted by the University of Minnesota from 2003 to 2005 found that Green House residents had a high satisfaction level, no back injuries caused by transfers of residents, less depression, and less need for anti-psychotic medication.
Family members and staff also report satisfaction with the Green Houses, which has resulted in fewer complaints at the state level and a staff turnover rate of less than 10 percent - remarkably low in the senior care industry.