Eden AlternativeThe Masonic Homes in Elizabethtown is being "Edenized." Health Care residents won't have to miss some of those important things of their home life, like pets, children, and friends. They will enjoy the spontaneity, laughter, and relationships that they had in their daily lives. In an Edenized home, residents have the opportunity to care for animals and plants, and to share their experiences with children and friends, just as they had always done.

With the support of the management team at the Masonic Homes, the Eden Alternative was accepted to bring a powerful tool for improving the quality of life for the residents in the long-term care facility. With the program came birds, dogs, and children -- real life things that make the residents feel more comfortable and lively. The philosophy teaches people to see long-term care facilities as vibrant habitats.

The Eden Alternative is an effort to address the disturbing fact for seniors that loneliness, helplessness, and boredom often brought about the bulk of suffering among residents in long-term facilities. The effort, based on the principle that everyone deserves "a life worth living," was pioneered in 1991 by Dr. William H. Thomas and his wife, Judy Meyers, at Chase Memorial Nursing Home in New York. That philosophy of care is growing in popularity and acceptance so that today there are more than 100 registered Eden Alternative homes in the United States and Canada and inquiries about the participation abound from countries worldwide.

This way of thinking also seeks to eliminate unnecessary medical therapies. It is Dr. Thomas' theory that too often residents in long-term care facilities perish from spiritual malaise and broken hearts because they feel their lives are not worth living. Despite quality health care, a sterile, hospital-like environment can fall short of providing for the emotional and spiritual needs of residents. Non-medical illnesses can be cured best with a natural habitat where residents can build meaningful bonds and make new discoveries daily.

During the summer, three aviaries and several fish tanks were brought into The Masonic Health Care Center in Elizabethtown. The aviaries house a variety of male finches, java rice finches, and love birds that the residents watch and enjoy daily. "Such concern," said Kirk Rakos, Recreation Services Supervisor, "has moved persons into a care-giver role, which is an anticipated result of the Eden Alternative."

Cats and dogs are being integrated into areas of the Homes. The first full-time "canine employee" reported for duty in the Outpatient/Employee Health Department recently. Daisy, a ten-year-old schnauzer-poodle mix, "comes to work" five days a week, warming the hearts of residents and employees with her friendly greetings, comfort, support, and companionship.

The Eden Alternative extends beyond the integration of animals, plants, and children into the daily lives of the residents. It's a cultural change in which residents, employees at all levels and disciplines, and volunteers are empowered to work in teams to make decisions about the programs and services.

Generally, it takes 12 to 18 months for a facility to become Edenized because of the education and changes that need to take place. Implementation of the Eden Alternative is a continuing process as employees, volunteers, residents, families, and the community collaborate in its evolution and growth. The majority of the education at the Masonic Homes is provided by five of its Eden Associates: Mark Eyer, Social Services Supervisor; Joyce Heisey, Assistant Director of Nursing; Rakos; Lori Seiders, Manager, Organization Development & Training; and Cathy Misiewicz, Nurse Manager. They all completed training in the "Ten Principles of the Eden Alternative," which are the guidelines for implementing the philosophy. The Principles cover such things as: Behavior testing and veterinary needs of cats, dogs, and birds; selection and display of plants; involvement of children with residents; quality indicators relative to the Eden Alternative and more.

Eden Alternative

An Eden Advisory Team of staff members from across the campus has been established and is being educated monthly on the "Ten Principles" by the Eden Associates. In each of the units of the Masonic Health Care Center, the Advisory Team has formed "neighborhoods" of staff and residents to determine how to best implement the Eden Alternative.

The Masonic Homes is finalizing its registration to become an Eden Alternative site. Using the Masonic Homes in Elizabethtown as a pilot, it is hoped to eventually Edenize the Masonic Eastern Star Home-East, the Masonic Eastern Star Home-West, and the Valley Care Masonic Center.

Education in the Eden Alternative began at the Masonic Homes in Elizabethtown for employees last Spring, followed by sessions for residents and their families in the Summer, and for volunteers in the Fall.