What is an ALS Residence?
In his website, www.alsri.org, Steve Saling, the pioneering pALS who designed the first ALS Residence in Chelsea, Massachusetes, described it this way. An ALS Residence is a specialized skilled nursing center that is provided in a residential setting.
The key ingredients are:
- Fully automated
- Prepared to offer vent support
- Compassionate and knowledgeable staff
- Emphasis on residential architecture
- Accepts Medicaid
It could be argued that the ALS Residence provides a quality of life better than what the wealthiest individuals could provide themselves at home but what is inarguable is that for pALS without the option of living at home, there is no better place on Earth. The ALS Residence accepts Medicaid funding so that no one is excluded based on finances. Residents don't worry that their care will one day be lacking, even when needing a ventilator. Residents are still able to use their talents to pursue personal and business interests and to continue to be productive and engaged members of society. Because they don't have to depend on family and friends to provide the intimate, personal care that can desensitize personal relationships, pALS are free to pursue "normal" relationships. Because they have consistent professional caregivers who are dedicated and compassionate, they can relax knowing that they know their exact routine so that they can practically read their mind instead of depending on some home health agency that may send a caregiver who is not familiar with ALS and doesn't know what a pALS wink or nod means. ALS is still a devastating condition that radically changes the course of the lives for the diagnosed and their families. Everyone hopes for a medical treatment or cure but pALS who are willing to LIVE with ALS deserve the chance to do so.
The Eden Alternative: the philosophy behind the ALS Residence
It is the philosophy espoused by Dr. Bill Thomas, a Harvard-educated medical doctor who thought the elderly deserved better care than what they typically received from traditional nursing homes. Thomas was a long-term care reformist who was also sometimes called the “nursing home abolitionist.”
In a culture that typically views aging as a period of decline, the Eden Alternative philosophy asserts that no matter how old we are or what challenges we live with, life is about continuing to grow. Building on this concept, it affirms that care is not a one-way street, but rather a collaborative partnership. All caregivers and care receivers are described as “care partners,” each an active participant in the balance of giving and receiving. Together, care partner teams strive to enhance well-being by eliminating the three plagues of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom.
Traditional nursing homes “…tend to be more like hospitals than homes and are characterized by long hallways, nurses’ carts, overhead call systems, a lack of privacy, double, triple and even quadruple occupancy rooms, unpleasant odors (sometimes) and impersonal treatment. Perhaps one of the worst features of nursing homes is the loss of the ability for residents and/or their families to make decisions about their care and about their day-to-day lives. Too often nursing homes are focused on the task of providing care rather than on the person. The person’s interests, wants, and need for social interaction, take a backseat to providing medical care.”
The ALS Residence Initiative: Its Beginnings
The first ALS Residence opened in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 2010, called the Steve Saling ALS Residence. It is lodged on the second floor of the Leonard Florence Center for Living, an urban condominium-style building. It was the dream of both Barry Berman (CEO of the Chelsea Jewish Foundation – owner of the LFCL) and Steve Saling, a pALS who helped design what was going to be his home.
There are now three residences nationwide. The other two are the Gleason House in New Orleans and the Donald McDapper ALS Residence, also in Chelsea, MA. There are efforts in other states to establish their own residences: Texas, Maine, Georgia, and Maryland.
Hawaii’s local effort started in 2016.