Shaping the Future of Eldercare

      What is culture change? In 1997, when a group of diverse individuals from across the country founded what became Pioneer Network, that question wasn’t unusual. Nor was the question, What is person-centered care? We have more answers to those questions 25 years later — simply put, culture change and person-centered care describe the simple idea that older adults and other people living in institutional settings should be valued, empowered, and included in the decisions and policies that affect their lives. As we approach 30 years as leaders in this movement, we’re still trying to make this the norm for post-acute and long-term care and to move the needle of self-determination even farther to person-directed living.
      As we hosted our first in-person conference since 2019, the theme of “Honoring the Past, Treasuring the Present, and Shaping the Future” could not have given a better context to the changes taking place, both within our organization and the world in which we work. A few months ago, we made the decision to formally align with our friends at the Green House Project, coming under their nonprofit umbrella, the Center for Innovation. Our July conference was the last solo event for Pioneer Network as it was, but we have always believed in the power of convening and partnership — and that is highlighted in this collaboration. There is exponential potential when individuals and organizations come together for a common cause, and this alliance is no different.
      At our annual conference in July, we saw the power that comes from like-minded people gathering together with optimism, passion, and the drive for transformation. Over the course of three days, we heard stories from our founders about the power every individual can have to evoke change. We were emboldened by leaders in the field who challenged us to step up and create inclusive environments for staff members and residents. And we celebrated the passion and purpose we can all bring to our personal and professional lives.
      Over two-thirds of attendees had never been to a Pioneer Network Conference before. The comments were overwhelmingly positive, with many saying, “I’ve never attended a conference quite like this — and I love it!”
      Steve Moran, founder of Senior Living Foresight, made a similar observation in a recent column, contrasting Pioneer with the more capital- and profit-focused atmospheres at other industry conferences: “Too many times I have attended conferences, walked up to an older person, asked them what they do, and they tell me, ‘I am only a resident.’ It makes me want to cry. At Pioneer Network, residents are taken seriously.”
      That is exactly what our organization has always been about — a place where residents are a central part of the conversation, a central part of the movement, and a central part of finding the solutions.
      As we move into this partnership with the Green House Project, the commitment to the resident experience remains. The commitment to hosting a network of like-minded people continues. Bringing the strengths of both organizations, we will be here to give residents and staff members a voice while also serving eldercare providers, advocates, and regulators as they strive to build a better system in the wake of COVID-19.
      Together we will create a central address for eldercare transformation, where providers can tap into our combined decades of experience to find solutions to their most pressing challenges. Although small homes and elder-directed programming may seem “radical” when compared with what happens in traditional institutional long-term care communities, we’ve been making it work across the country — and the world — for decades. Whether an organization wants to build Green House homes from the ground up, renovate an existing building to include private rooms and universal caregivers, or just infuse a traditional home with elder-directed care, there’s now one single source of trusted consultation and education.
      The principles that Green House and Pioneer have developed over the years are also gaining increasing traction among policy-makers and elected officials. The Biden-Harris administration called for a reduction in room crowding at nursing homes, and multiple bills before Congress have proposed the creation of federal grant programs to fund the construction of more small-home nursing communities — alongside the adoption of elder-directed care practices. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommended that the United States implement a host of physical design changes in nursing homes based largely on Green House standards, and culture change continues to receive positive press in both trade and mainstream publications.
      Our shared goal is a future where every elder receives high-quality care in the setting of her or his choice — regardless of race, socioeconomic background, or the community they call home. Pioneer Network and the Green House Project look forward to growing our reach and deepening our impact in the years ahead. The culture change tent is big enough for everyone, no matter your place in the long-term care continuum, so come join us!
      Penny Cook is the president and CEO of Pioneer Network, Penny Cook is the president and CEO of Pioneer Network. Alex Spanko is the director of communications and marketing at the Green House Project.