Rural nursing homes as cultural centers

By Cait Crenshaw

With over 300 long-term care facilities in Kentucky, many in rural areas, the mission to reverse the stigma of long-term care from institutions to communities is vital for the industry and the thousands of Kentuckians it cares for daily.

Rural Focus

A new project is tackling this problem by putting six acclaimed, professional artists in residency and infusing creativity to 12 rural Kentucky nursing homes.  Why rural Kentucky? Organizers were liked the idea of the nursing home serving many cultural functions in the community, like many local libraries. Locations include small towns such as Morgantown, Horse Cave, Calhoun, Hodgenville, Brodhead and more.

The three-year, Peter Pan inspired I Won’t Grow Up project centers around the question: What if nursing homes were cultural centers?

Arts in Healing

The I Won’t Grow Up Project is the brainchild of Angie McAllister, director of Cultural Transformation at Signature HealthCARE headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky and Anne Basting, founder of TimeSlips and 2016 MacArthur Fellow.

“The power of arts in healthcare is transformative. All of us are searching for a little bit of magic and opening ourselves up to imagination brings that to life,” said McAllister.

Together Signature HealthCARE and TimeSlips selected 12 nursing homes in rural communities as part of the project. The project kicked off by training nursing home staff alongside the six professional artists, ageing expert and other community partners, like local librarians.

“Regardless of physical ability or illness–with art, people can be physically ill, but creatively well,” Basting said.

Being creatively well hits home particularly for dementia or Alzheimer’s residents. In 2015, 47 million people lived with dementia, and it is predicted the number will grow to 135.5 million by 2050.

“We are all creative. We are all artists, so it’s igniting that in each person,” Andee Rudloff, artist in residence at four nursing homes in southcentral Kentucky, said. Rudloff is one of the professional artists, three from Kentucky, collaborating with nursing home staff and elders. “I’m coming with every tool I’ve got to help engage residents in art making,”

The “I Won’t Grow Up” project’s goal aims for nursing homes to become creative communities, where residents, caregivers, families and volunteers seek out joining in a nursing home’s activities calendar. Local partners across the state, like the Butler County Kentucky Arts Guild, have already started to join.

Life Continues

For Quality of Life Directors, the project comes with the challenge of getting residents and staff out of their comfort zone. “They tell me, ‘well, I’m not an artist or a painter.’ And I say there’s no wrong way to do things,” Misty Montgomery, Quality of Life director at Signature HealthCARE at Heritage Hall, said. “In Peter Pan, the story says, ‘What if I fall? But what if you fly?’”

Creativity in care settings isn’t a new idea, but staff, residents, families and volunteers co-creating together is a new approach from the I Won’t Grow Up project. “Life doesn’t end when you go to live at a nursing home. Growth can continue all the way until the end of life. There is more than bingo and TV,” McAllister said.

The I Won’t Grow Up Project is a partnership between Signature HealthCARE and TimeSlips. It is funded by a Civil Money Penalty (CMP) Grant through the Kentucky Office of Inspector General and the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) and grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“We want our elders to have purpose. We want our stakeholders to build relationships with our elders,” Montgomery said. “Volunteers and family members have already come to me asking how they can get involved. I hope to reach out more into the community soon.”

The project will culminate in local Creative Festivals where the possibilities are open, such as an art exhibit, play with stage sets and choreography, a music concert, all of these or a new idea dreamed up by residents and staff, together.

-Cait Crenshaw is communications manager at The Agency, a Signature HealthCARE company.




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