This is Piper. Piper is our office dog. His stats are pretty impressive – he’ll be two in late July but he’s already had two surgeries after eating (1) a large rock; (2) 3 brass fittings. When he’s not sleeping – he puts teenagers to shame – he’s exuberant and extremely affectionate.
Piper is a valued member of our office and that is in no way an exaggeration. People come here to make very hard decisions about growing old – and understand that no one really wants to discuss growing old in the first place – and our furry blur of a dog makes them feel right at home. You can see the tension drain from clients the minute Piper bounces into the room.
It would seem that this is a no-brainer, pets helping out this way. But, at least in Elder Care, it’s a fairly recent development.
In 1991 a Harvard educated physician left a position as an emergency room doctor and became the director of Chase Memorial Nursing Home, a facility in upstate New York with 80 severely disabled elderly residents. About half of them were physically disabled; four out of five had Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of cognitive disability.
At first, as he freely admits now, he ‘confused care with treatment’. In short, he was acting like a typical doctor. Except Bill Thomas was anything but a typical doctor (Click here to read more about his amazing backstory). He thought that the problem with assisted care facilities at the time revolved around what he called the 3 Plagues of nursing homes: ‘boredom, loneliness, and helplessness.’
Bill Thomas was in upstate New York because he had bought a farm there as he was finishing medical school. He loved being surrounded by ‘life.’ He decided to bring life into Chase Although it was against zoning regulations for a nursing home, in fairly quick succession Thomas brought in ‘one hundred parakeets, four dogs, two cats, a colony of rabbits and a flock of laying hens . . . hundreds of indoor plants and a thriving vegetable and flower garden . . . as well as an on-site child care for the staff and a new after-school program’.
Remember, he did this at a time when the prevailing medical thought for assisted living was basically ‘a hospital for old people.’ He was, in fact, fighting – and it was a fight – against fifty years of convention. But, he got it done at Chase.
The effects were remarkable: drug prescriptions dropped like a rock, residents that hadn’t left their rooms in months were now out and about and eating meals with the others, some residents went home. Remarkable.
Bill Thomas has made it his life’s mission to change assisted living. He’s well on his way. Piper reminds us of all that every day we’re in the office trying to help people plan for their lives after retirement, because thanks to Dr. Thomas and many, many others, life doesn’t remotely end after retirement.