Lessons from Pioneer 2011: Neighborhood Nurses and obtrusive noise

St. Charles, Missouri, was the site of the 2011 annual convention for the Pioneer Network. This was the fourth Pioneer event I have attended; I had the opportunity to be at the third ever conference back in the 90s when there was only about 500 attendees. My have times changed!

This year, my company elected to send all 30 of our administrators to this event, plus some of our home office team. For many, this was their first exposure to the passion of culture change—Pioneer Network style.

On the first day of the conference, we engaged in an all day intensive. I elected to participate in a day-long tour of a household model of design for skilled nursing. We traveled across the mighty Mississippi to Glen Carbon, Illinois, to spend the day with the amazing team at Meridian Village. Fifty “pioneers” embarked on this tour to learn more about the culture changing concept of skilled nursing operating within household models of care.


Entry at a typical resident room in Meridian Village.

The team at Meridian Village, along with Sages from Pioneer Network, did a fabulous job of organizing our day. We broke down into five groups of 10 participants and spent the day touring and asking lots of questions of the Household Coordinators, Neighborhood Nurses, Household Homemakers and Care Coordinators. (These were not your grandmother’s nursing home job descriptions!)

Meridian Village has turned their organizational chart upside down in a journey toward person-centered care. They transitioned from a traditional 32-bed nursing home to a 72-resident, four-household care center where the residents call the shots. The tour was interesting, but the most inspiring aspect of the day was the time we spent with the team members. They shared their passion for what they did and the compassion they had for their residents and their roles on the team. You could sense that every person on the care-giving team was empowered to make a difference in the lives of their residents.

Wednesday was our second day at this culture change event. Keynote speeches and educational sessions made up the balance of the day. The highlight for me was an educational session entitled, “Environments that Foster Peace and Comfort: Reducing Noise in our Settings.” Marguerite McLaughlin of Quality Partners of Rhode Island was the presenter. In the past, many presenters have covered lighting, colors and many other sensory obstacles in design for aging, but this was my first exposure to the issue of noise, and the study on obtrusive noise was eye-opening. Do you realize that at many of our traditional nurses’ stations, the noise level can reach 90 decibels? Any sound above 85 decibels is considered dangerous to our hearing. Upon my return to Nebraska, I am going to purchase a decibel meter.

This is definitely an untouched frontier in our nursing facilities. Overhead paging, call systems, telephones, shredders and someone else’s television are the biggest culprits in this noise war. The next time you are in a nursing home, sit down at the nurses’ station, close your eyes and listen. You will be amazed at what you hear and how difficult it is to focus on anything. Welcome to the world of our residents!

As Chief Development Officer, Elliott serves on the Executive Leadership Team for Vetter Health Services ( www.vetterhealthservices.com). He oversees planning, design, construction and facilities management in 33 senior living campuses in the Midwest. Elliott is currently Vice President of the SAGE Federation and serves on the AHCA Life Safety Committee. He recently served as a juror for the 2011 Long-Term Living DESIGN competition.

Topics: Advocacy , Design , Housing