Before moving on to the third core value of the Green House Project, meaningful life, I would like to address one key question regarding staff empowerment. Currently, only a tiny fraction of residents in Long Term Care in the United States live in Green House Homes. Something under 2000 nationwide, but it’s growing. If the Green House movement ever grew to the point where it became a major alternative to traditional institutional care, would there be enough direct care workers with the right blend of personal and professional qualities to meet the demand? Or is the potential shahbaz candidate a rare breed drawn from an elite group of exceptional caregivers, high in motivation and ability, but too small in numbers?
There is much about the feasibility of the Green House Model that I am not qualified to answer. I know very little about the financial aspects and I don’t have the administrative experience or education to speak to the problems involved in organizing and sustaining something like a Green House Home. But what I do know and what I am qualified to address is the caregiver issue. And my answer to the question of whether or not there would be enough direct care workers with what it takes to meet the demands of a large scale Green House movement is an emphatic “yes.”
Yes, they are out there. I’ve worked with them. I know them. I know that many strive to maintain high standards of care while practicing a deep and genuine brand of compassion that endures despite difficult circumstances. And while they are acutely aware that the system they work under is deeply flawed, they are no less motivated by a sense of pride in their work and by the strong personal connection they have with their residents. These are caregivers who refuse to define themselves by the environment in which they work.
This breed of caregiver is all over social media. There, as in the work place, they find like-minded caregivers and create bonds of mutual support and understanding. Whether onsite or online, good caregivers are drawn to one another. And as we witness this larger community of caregivers begin to take shape and develop a sense of itself, we can see an independent grassroots ethos form, expressed in a thousand different ways, but with a common theme: “As a CNA, I know I am underpaid, not appreciated like I should be and worn out. But I also know that under my care, I will do whatever it takes to make sure you will have the best life possible.” While the words are simple, the commitment behind them is profound. And it is the essence of what it means to be a shahbaz.
Of course, there are administrators and LTC professionals who don’t see it that way. There are those who would look at the unique labor requirements of the Green House Model and tell you – at least in private – “It wouldn’t work here – we just don’t have that kind of people.”
I think this lack of faith in the average caregiver extends from the fact that the skeptics are judging caregivers from the outside and in an environment that limits them. Heavy workloads, rules and regulations that do not make sense at the caregiver level and a hierarchical system that stifles initiative masks a powerful underlying and largely untapped potential. Even well intentioned administrators often lack the awareness of what caregivers actually do and are capable of doing. You have to descend into the trenches and become a part of it to really see it and understand it.
I have little doubt that with proper support and training, most caregivers would thrive in an environment of staff empowerment. If the Green House Project fails to become a large scale movement, it won’t be because the right kind of people aren’t available.