The VILLAGE OF HOPE
From Segregation to Inclusion
William H. Thomas, M.D.
Minka: Healthier Homes and Communities
Concept Paper: Executive Summary.
The PA State Plan for Alzheimer’s & Related Disorders reported in 2013 that over 400,000 individuals were living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related disorder in the Commonwealth. With over 2 million individuals over the age of sixty-five in 2016, Pennsylvania had the seventh highest percent of elderly in the U.S (17.4%) and is therefore highly likely to experience a concomitant increase in the number of individuals with dementia. Indeed, the plan for The Village of Hope aligns with the current State Plan on Aging, meeting Objective 2.6 – “Improve access to affordable and accessible housing for older adults” – as well as the Strategy to “Advocate for housing models that allow older adults and persons with disabilities to age in place.”
It is within this context that Clearfield County is poised to become a cradle of innovation. With nearly 20 percent of its population over the age 65 as of July 2016, the proportion of elderly in Clearfield County exceeds not only the national but also the state average. The need to address the upsurge of dementia in Clearfield County is acute.
The Village of Hope will be an inclusive community where older Pennsylvanians, particularly those with dementia and other cognitive impairments, can live independently and maintain their quality of life and age with dignity and joy. It is designed to serve the people (of all ages) and serve as a resource for the greater community. Unlike institutional models of care, the Village of Hope works to connect, rather than isolate people and bring together people of different abilities and different cognitive, physical, and creative abilities in the belief that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.
This is a cutting edge approach to home and community-based services, not a licensed health care facility. With an emphasis on reciprocity, everyone living, working, and studying within the Village will be taught methods for communicating with and collaborating with and supporting people living with dementia. Housing options will include single occupancy, double and a small percentage of single family homes. Although priority will be for eligible persons from Clearfield County, individuals from other counties will also be eligible.
The Village of Hope will become a replicable model that can reduce expenditures from public programs while improving the health and well-being of people living with dementia, their families, and the surrounding communities. It can change the way we organize and deliver supportive services in the context of dementia in Clearfield County, and across the country.
It is now becoming clear that the deliberate effort to segregate people living with dementia actually weakens people living with dementia, their families, and their communities. They are also very expensive while at the same time requiring family and loved ones to be separated from each other. In fact, people and communities are stronger and more resilient when they can rely on each other. Interdependence is the foundation of independence.
In the fall of 2018, Kathy Gillespie and Dr. Bill Thomas began collaborating on the Village of Hope concept. The goal is to create a first-of-its-kind community that can be home to people living with dementia (of all income levels) and the people they love. Working together, Ms. Gillespie and Dr. Thomas have developed a replicable Village of Hope model with the following elements.
Shared Community Space: Under the direction of Ms. Gillespie, the Mature Resources Foundation has already purchased an empty elementary school building in Lecontes Mills.
Compact Homes: The model calls for clustering 60 small houses around the school house in four “pocket neighborhoods.” Designed by Dr. Thomas, these homes are designed to help people living with dementia, and those they love, experience greater autonomy and well-being.
Creative Expression: It has been well established that music and the arts can a exert powerful positive influence on cognition, relationships and function. The Village of Hope will place “Mountain Arts” at the core of the life of the community and will also be home to a steady stream of college student interns.
Supports and Services: The Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging is already a leader in developing and delivering innovative home and community-based supports and services to the the people it serves.
Mature Resources Foundation (a non-profit affiliate of Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging) is already working to create the first Village of Hope. The following sections outline the need for this innovation and the resources that will be required to complete the project in a timely fashion.