“Doctor, I am so lonely.”
The whispered words from a patient led New York physician Dr. Bill Thomas to develop his individual-first philosophy — the Eden Alternative — for institutional care for the elderly. Thomas envisioned a caring environment, both long and short-term, where people could live and thrive — not just wait to die.
“I’d heard Dr. Thomas speak in Des Moines back in 1998,” recalled West Ridge Care Center Administrator Richard Curphey. “I walked out of that session thinking, ‘This is what it is supposed to be for people,’ and it’s what brought me to West Ridge.”
West Ridge Care Center is the only Eden Certified care center in the area, having received its certification in February 2000. Curphey, who grew up in Lenox and graduated from Wartburg College, took over the administrator position in 2002.
For an elder care center to be certified in the program, its administrator, director of nursing, activities specialist and social worker must undergo the program’s required training.
“All of my department heads are Eden Associates,” Curphey noted.
The Eden Alternative recognizes loneliness, helplessness and boredom as the main causes of suffering among the elderly. An elder-centered community is committed to creating a habitat revolving around continual contact with plants, animals and children.
“The Eden Alternative is not just about pet therapy,” added Curphey, although West Ridge does have four dogs on premise that interact with the residents and staff daily.
In addition to the newest canine, Sammi, a four-month old giant Schnauzer, the center has birds, fish, plants the residents help attend, a walking trail and a garden the residents help maintain.
“Even if they are just watering the garden, by their being in the garden they are giving care back, and it gives them a sense of personal responsibility,” Curphey explained.
“Eden philosophy is really about taking the time to listen to what I — or you — can do today to make another’s life better,” he continued. “Whether that is a resident here in the center or whether it’s a co-worker.”
Eden Alternative is about the whole self, Curphey said. A resident “is not just a patient in 142 with a broken hip or the sore shoulder in room 161. These people have names.
“With the Eden Alternative, they do not lose their identity.”