Doctor Broke Law to Create Better Nursing Homes and Death Rates Plummeted


By Heather Callaghan

Wheelchairs sent back when this doc came to the nursing home... Click to Tweet

Once upon a time, in the early 1990s, a young upstate New York doctor transitioned from his career as a busy ER doctor to directing a humble nursing home. Even 25 years ago, aging was becoming seen as becoming more “useless” in society especially as depicted in media. Nursing homes were, and the majority still are – a bleak dead end. No frills, terrible food and entertainment, with nothing to look forward to each day in what are supposed to be a person’s golden years. The idea of rehabilitation or a full life is non-existent.

Haven’t you ever noticed that most nursing homes have morbidly symbolic names like “Sunset Homes?” As though an elder in a nursing home needed one more dreary reminder that their sun was “setting” – that light was leaving them instead of beckoning them for the day to begin. God forbid they ever use actual colors on the wall instead of soupy shades of mushroom. Or calming aromas that don’t involve urine sheets and ammoniacal disinfectant. But I digress a bit…

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Dr. Bill Thomas abhorred all of that nonsense and revered the aging years with as much vigor as most people view the youth. He wanted each day for the residents to be a symbolic “rise” filled with fun, imagination, creativity and connection. Why shouldn’t it be! He decided to turnover the “depressed and regimented” apple cart.

And yes, he had to break the law…

Nursing homes frown on the addition of animals and gardens in their buildings – there’s a number of bylaws that are broken in the process. But Dr. Thomas basically said to hell with that notion! and began shuffling in “two dogs, four cats, hens, rabbits, 100 parakeets, a multitude of plants, a flower garden, and vegetable patch” like a modern day Noah. Interestingly, he called it the Eden Alternative according to Good News Network.

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They report that the change was dramatic saying there was a “50% drop in medical prescriptions along with a dramatic decrease in death rates – but most importantly, the residents were simply happier.”

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Furthermore – a fleet of wheelchairs were returned! Thomas told the Washington Post. “You know why most people [in nursing homes] use wheelchairs? Because the buildings are so damn big.” (source) He then created “small, independently run residences with their own bedrooms and bathrooms called Green Houses.”

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The 56-year-old Harvard trained doctor is now an internationally known longevity expert who is flipping elderly stereotypes on their heads. Just think of the audience members Thomas talks to – many of them probably have aging parents and many of them may fear aging due to the negative stereotypes. Too often, our elders get scooted away as the remaining family members try to distract themselves lest they crumble under the guilt.

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With the Eden Alternative, which involves autonomy, creativity and connection everyone can embrace the best time of life.

The idea is to think of aging as a new, enriching phase of life which Thomas does in his motivational talks. No more dread. No more fear!

Thomas has authored several books including Second Wind: Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper, and More Connected Life, and is currently on a speaking tour where he also plays music, called Age of Disruption –  check him out!

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This article (Doctor Broke Law to Create Better Nursing Homes and Death Rates Plummeted) can be republished with attribution to Heather Callaghan, source article and Natural, keeping all links and bio intact.

Heather Callaghan is an independent researcher, writer, speaker and food freedom activist. She is the Editor and co-founder of Like at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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