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Green design for better senior living

March 23, 2011
by Patrick J. Del Ponte
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Sustainable design provides benefits to all stakeholders
2010 FotoGrafix

Does it seem like more things are changing than staying the same? New technology brings countless opportunities that were previously not even considered, much less realized. And now, the age of sustainability and the green movement have grown from an isolated pocket of enthusiasts to attract a large following from diverse positions and industries. Even more importantly, this emphasis toward sustainable practices has delivered demonstrated, proven success that can impact long-term care (LTC) residents, employees, administrators, and the bottom line.

In addition to providing a healthier environment for residents, significant long-term cost savings are among the most exciting benefits that the recipients of an environmentally friendly facility may enjoy. Improved cognitive function, greater community support, stronger staff retention, and a more positive impact on the environment are all benefits that administrators can potentially anticipate from a well-designed, sustainable LTC facility. With so many benefits easily recognized, decision makers should take a close look at all of the sustainable options available to them as they consider upcoming building projects.

It's easy to see how new facilities, with an emphasis on sustainability, lay the foundation for a great story of quality care, while also being aesthetically pleasing, healthy, and cost-sensitive. Additionally, by designing and building green, one can connect with a bigger story of care for the environment that may be present in the community, or one might be the catalyst for this initiative.

Rising building costs, highly fluctuating energy bills, demands for improved performance, and greater competition for both residents and staff are critical issues that nearly every administrator faces. But many have not seen how the benefit of building sustainable facilities addresses these issues.

A good example of a provider that is reaping those benefits is Lutheran Homes of Oshkosh (LHO), Wisconsin, a family of healthcare and residential service organizations committed to providing quality care and life-enriching opportunities to the aging. Following a strategic planning process, this organization began to take greater steps toward sustainability. One result was the planning, design, and construction of LHO's new 77-acre campus, Eden Meadows, which was designed to expand services offered at the original campus.

Eden Meadows features Eden Rehabilitation Suites, a state-of-the-art skilled nursing facility for short-term rehabilitation, and two Green House® Homes-the first facilities of their kind in Wisconsin. These modern homes include private rooms and baths with barrier-free European showers, a bistro, and an extensive therapy program that is central to the services of Eden Meadows. These new facilities take their cues from the Green House model-a person-centered approach to providing skilled nursing care.

While adhering to all codes for skilled nursing, Green House Homes provide residents with an environment that looks and feels like home. Both the Eden Rehabilitation Suites and Eden Green House Homes were developed to take advantage of sustainable design strategies, improve long-term performance, and offer a healthful living and working environment. Numerous sustainable features provide residents, staff, and LHO with the many benefits that building green provides.


The impact of designing and building green, versus traditional construction, really does affect an organization's environmental footprint. It's important to celebrate that accomplishment, but the benefits are more widespread than many realize. Here's a sampling of the impact:

2010 FotoGrafix

Patrick J. Del Ponte
Patrick J. Del Ponte

2010 FotoGrafix

Contrary to popular myth, it is now common for sustainable construction to cost less than traditional construction.

  • Green practices affect efficiency. Improving air quality, lighting, and comfort has proven to increase productivity and reduce absenteeism. According to one U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report, the average worker spends nearly 90% of his/her time indoors, and building-related illnesses cost organizations tens of billions of dollars every year. By choosing green solutions, the study reports that staff members miss fewer days and are more effective at work.

  • Green practices affect attitudes. Recent studies have made a well-supported case that Millennials (persons born between 1979 and 2001) are more responsive to those institutions that are environmentally sensitive. The research demonstrates that 83% of Millenials will place more trust in organizations that are socially and environmentally responsible. This means potential employees and client's families, local media, and others are potentially influenced by your decision to be greener…or not.