Humanitas in Rotterdam Offers Extension of JCHE Model
Had an amazing visit to Humanitas—a Dutch nonprofit serving seniors in an extremely progressive fashion. Rather than think about an array of programs and services to support elders, and therefore hopefully maximize “quality of life”, they focus directly and explicitly on happiness. According to their approach, “care” is secondary.
They base their housing management of four basic principles:
- Everyone wants to be in control of his or her own life. If one’s brain is still functioning, that person can and wants to decide for him/herself what is important.
- People should actively participate to the extent feasible. Humanitas says “too much care is worse than too little care” because skills atrophy.
- There are not “us’s” and “thems”—meaning those in need of care and the professionals who give it—but rather we are all part of an extended family who share common goals.
- The YES culture is the driving force for Humanitas. All concerned (management, employee, family, client, volunteer) will need a positive attitude towards any request concerning the wish to be in control., actively participate of have new ideas.
They have developed apartments for life, where a person 55+ can move in and be assured they will never be forced to leave the apartment as long as they choose to be there (some forms of dementia where there is a wandering risk are the exception—in these cases, they may move to a different floor). Humanitas can deliver actually nursing-home level services right in the apartment—the units are designed to be flexible for any level of frailty, including stretcher baths for those unable to even be wheeled into a shower. The on-beyond-universal design is in all the units, so there’s never any segregation into what Hans Becker (the dynamic leader of Humanitas) calls “islands of misery”.
By providing incredibly attractive housing, they are able to draw relatively young (55-60 year olds) with no support needs as well as those whose frailty level necessitates services. A key element is a vibrant, open-to-the-public ground floor—there are restaurants, some shops, a bar and other things to generate interest in the complex. Typically, these public areas are under a multi-story atrium and visible from the apartments themselves.
Another key design feature is the inclusion of a “reminiscence museum” in each of the developments. Here, they re-create rooms of the residents’ youth—a 1940’s kitchen, a 1930’s bathroom, an early 20th century grocery store—and invite residents to share their memories—each one has a unique story and these artifacts are meant to spur memories and particularly the sharing of same. They appear to be quite successful. To reflect their multi-cultural clientele, they have museums for each of the cultures—a Moroccan one, a Surinamese one and a Turkish one.
In addition, they have various amenities to attract outsiders and give residents something to think and talk about—a small zoo at one, a sculpture garden at another, a koi pond at another. These are meant to provoke conversation and shift focus away from health problems, worries, losses and onto shared interests, observations and ideas.
Granted, the Dutch system of social housing and a much wider/deeper safety net makes this work easier, but the dynamic and visionary leadership of Humanitas means that they capitalize on every chance. We can do the same!