Michelle Engelbach

Michelle Engelbach, chief executive officer of the Ohio Eastern Star Home, told Exchange Club members that what she wants them to remember is "living is so much more than dying."

MOUNT VERNON — Recapping the expansion of services and recent construction at the Ohio Eastern Star Home to Exchange Club members on Friday, Michelle Engelbach noted that the campus offers everything from home health services to rehabilitation to independent and assisted living.

When she came to the topic of long-term living in the OESH healthcare neighborhoods, designed with a new philosophy in mind, she hit her stride.

“I am on a mission about spreading the word home vs. institution,” said Engelbach, chief executive officer of the OESH.

Noting that individuals become lonely, helpless, and bored under the desensitized institutional model, which includes set routines and structure such as required eating times, Engelbach said, “That's not home. So we are trying to change the philosophy and say 'it's not what's convenient for the staff.'”

That new philosophy is called The Eden Alternative, and it's based on the notion that human beings thrive in garden-like environments.

The first step in changing the philosophy is referring to individuals as residents or elders rather than patients. Engelbach explained that an elder is still a living, breathing person alive in his or her environment.

“If you go into a nursing home and if you hear someone say, 'oh, the patient you want to see is over there,' chances are they are still operating in the institutional model,” she said.

Under The Eden Alternative, human and animal companionship is the antidote to loneliness, the opportunity to give as well as receive care is the antidote to helplessness, and varied and spontaneous daily life is the antidote to boredom.

Engelbach said the healthcare neighborhoods provide those antidotes. Pets, outings, plants, and children are among the activities the neighborhoods encourage. As an example of spontaneity, she cited the time a resident helped toilet paper the office of a caregiver.

One of the principles guiding The Eden Alternative is the idea that medical treatment should be the servant of genuine human caring, never its master. Engelbach said that all too often individuals are told “don't get up, you might fall,” or “you can't eat cake, you're diabetic.”

“That's so wrong on so many levels,” she said. “It's all about how I want to live my life. … Yes, I might fall, but I am going to get up and walk around because I don't want to sit in my chair. If you wake up at 10 o'clock and want pancakes, you should be able to get that because that's what you do at home.”

The Eden Alternative also de-emphasizes top-down bureaucratic authority. Instead, it places decision-making in the hands of the elders or those closest to them.

“Living is so much more than not dying. That's what I want everyone to take away,” Engelbach told the Exchange Club members. “A nursing home is not a place to go to die.”

Recognizing the proven health benefits that animals bring to elders, The OESH is embarking on the creation of a campus dog park. Diane Henwood, director of development for the OESH, said the park will be an enclosed grassy area and include canine agility equipment. Easily accessible to residents and visitors, patio seating and shade trees will be available for elders and their families to enjoy.

Anyone wishing to donate to the dog park can contact Henwood by calling 740-397-1706 ext. 3035 or 888-818-2537; emailing her at dhenwood@oeshome.org; or visiting the website www.oeshome.org.