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All Is Well—and Getting Better

December 1, 2005
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Wellness is an increasingly marketable philosophy, as demonstrated at senior living communities in Michigan and Ohio by Jan Montague, MGS, and Kim Peters, MGS
All is Well—and Getting Better

A national consultant on long-term care wellness programs/centers looks ahead
BY JAN MONTAGUE, MGS, AND KIM PETERS, MGS Since 1995, our firm has helped senior living communities develop effective wellness cultures and programs and, for some, state-of-the-art wellness centers. This past year we have noticed some exciting new developments in wellness culture, behavior-specific programming, wellness center planning and design, staffing, and other industry-wide trends. These developments are supported by information that we have received while serving on Advisory Boards for the International Council on Active Aging and the National Council on Aging's Health Promotion Institute, and by judging several award programs: National Mature Media, NuStep Pinnacle, and National Health Information. It looks as though 2006 will be an exciting year for senior living communities interested in promoting whole-person wellness concepts for all their residents.

It is now becoming commonly accepted: We age successfully by incorporating wellness concepts and beliefs into all aspects of our lives. Simply defined, wellness is the integration of an individual's multiple dimensions into positive and meaningful activities. This approach to health-a comprehensive wellness model-requires a lifestyle perspective that includes self-responsibility for emotional, intellectual, physical, social, spiritual, and vocational health; an optimistic outlook; and a can-do attitude. Wellness is about adopting a whole-person health philosophy throughout your entire life. Glacier Hills Retirement Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Tara Gilbert, Director of Wellness and Rehabilitation:
"When I was hired in 2002, our CEO wanted to develop a real wellness center. The facility had had activities for years, but this would be a more complete focus on wellness. We did some fund-raising and a lot of staff training and got the program started in January 2003. We have a variety of activities matched to each of the six dimensions of wellness and, for the long-term care residents on our campus, these are conducted in their facilities through the recreational therapy department.

"After about a year we wanted to see if we were 'walking the talk' in wellness and did a campuswide survey of residents. Overall our Wellness Report Card gave us an 86, or a high B, average, which we thought was pretty good for starters. Residents and staff said we needed to do more education about wellness, particularly in the long-term care and rehab center. Some wanted more intellectually stimulating programs. Many appreciated the greater opportunity for socialization, but some said this was limited somewhat by the physical environment.

"Food was an item of major importance, and we've since developed a direct dining program where food is served hot in the individual units by people who have been trained as hospitality-type wait staff. Part of this reflects that the care and rehab building is more than 30 years old and we've simply outgrown some aspects of the building.

"We don't call this a nursing center anymore; it is a care and rehab center. We don't want to be seen as a nursing home because people would have the image that it's a place where they would come to die. We want to provide our residents with whatever they find brings meaning to their lives, recognizing that this is not 'the end' but rather a continuing journey." The Growth of Wellness
During the past decade, many senior living communities have started fitness and wellness programs. Many offer walking paths, massage, strength and cardio equipment, swimming pools, computer classes, photo labs, and meditation gardens. A few communities, though, have chosen to do much more. As they encourage their residents to adopt a wellness philosophy (figure) throughout life, they have decided to spread a wellness philosophy throughout their entire organizations. By changing their perspective on wellness, they now concentrate on "what people can do," instead of "what people can't do." And by this, they mean all people. The lesson they have learned is that everyone benefits from a wellness program-residents, staff, and family members.

Some general advances that have occurred in recent years:

  • Vision and Mission Statements are being rewritten to reflect a wellness focus.
  • Communities are establishing a wellness culture in all departments and living areas (independent, assisted living, post-acute, and long-term healthcare).
  • Wellness-based attitudes, expectations, and language are being communicated to residents and staff daily.
  • Staff titles and job descriptions are being rewritten to demonstrate the community's commitment to its wellness-based mission.
  • Wellness environments are being created for both individual and group participation.
  • Communities are creating wellness identities to remain competitive and progressive.

Innovation continues in programming: