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Successful Edenization Through Education

March 1, 2004
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A Michigan staff-training model expedites this popular approach to culture change by Jack L. Steiner, Cean Eppelheimer, and Marla DeVries

People often view plants, animals, and children-the fur and the feathers-as the focal point of the Eden Alternative. These elements are important in eliminating what Bill Thomas calls the "plagues" of longterm care-loneliness, helplessness, and boredom-by providing companionship and a spontaneous atmosphere. However, another significant, but often overlooked, benefit of the presence of plants, animals, and children is the opportunity they afford residents to balance their receiving care with ways they can give care. Edenization gives them a chance to "give back" to someone or something, fulfilling their human need to be needed. Residents may not be able to change a litter box or walk a dog outside, but petting a dog or talking to a bird are nonetheless opportunities for them to give.

Plants, pets, and children should only be introduced when the organization has prepared for them. Furthermore, the choice to introduce them needs to be by mutual consent and with the full involvement of both residents and staff. And we must realize that having plants, pets, and children in the facility will not serve the intended purpose if they are not properly and purposefully incorporated.

Where to Now?
As we look to the future, one thing is certain: Tomorrow's purchasers of long-term care (i.e., baby boomers) will not be satified with "the way we have always done it." They will expect-no, demand-that it be different. The next generation of long-term care organizations may be small, planned communities, such as those in the Green House project. For now, however, the Eden Alternative seeks to transform the traditional medical model of care into an environment where daily life is filled with spontaneous activities and caregiving opportunities.

As long-term care communities begin changing their culture through the Eden Alternative, Michigan's On-Site Training Model can help them create within their organizations a critical mass of staff dedicated to the process, integrated support, and the engagement of 75 to 80% of all staff through the "Eden immersion" process. Having employees engaged in the On-Site Training Model increases the momentum and strengthens the resolve of the organization to transform itself into a warm, caring human habitat that respects the facility's medical treatment mission, but is not a slave to it.
Jack Steiner is an Eden Alternative Regional Coordinator and the Executive Director of BEAM. Cean Eppelheimer and Marla DeVries are BEAM employees. For further information, phone (517) 703-9346, fax (517) 703-9350, or e-mail To comment on this article, please send e-mail to For reprints, call (866) 377-6454.