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How A Reframe Transformed A Nursing Home (And Can Change Your Life)


PictureWhere in your life or in your organization could you use a new way of thinking about things – a “reframe”? Where do you need – maybe even crave – new possibilities and ways of thinking?

Dr. Bill Thomas provides us a great example of how to do this.  A brilliant Harvard Medical School graduate who could have had his pick of high-paying, high-profile jobs, Dr. Thomas prized the trait of self-reliance above all else.

He lived on a farm, grew most of his own vegetables, and used solar and wind power for electricity. While many of his colleagues from medical school were earning incredible amounts of money staffing prestigious hospitals, Thomas chose a simpler path. He took a staff position at Chase Memorial Nursing Home in upstate New York.

What he encountered at Chase was the opposite of self-sufficiency. He found despair, depression and hopelessness on the part of both residents and staff. His initial ‘frame’ on the situation was a medical one. That was the kind of framing in which he had been trained. So he had all of the residents examined thoroughly, prescriptions evaluated, and probed the background and training of his staff.

After all of this evaluation he discovered, to his shock, that he had the wrong frame after all. His Harvard education had given him an initial possible frame – clinical medical treatment. But as he dug deeper he realized that the problem was not medical, but emotional.

If the problem was not medical, the solution was not going to be treatment. The solution needed to be “life”. And there was very little life at Chase; all of the facility was sterile, plastic, clinical.

So, Dr. Thomas went about becoming a “nursing home abolitionist”. He got a grant and created life at lifeless Chase. He brought pets into the nursing home to provide companionship for residents. He replaced plastic potted plants with real flowers. Staff brought their children by after school.

He even went so far as to apply for and receive an exemption to bring 100 birds into the nursing home, offering birdsong as competition to the electronic beeps, muted television noise, and human moans more typical of nursing homes.

Chase became a place of life. And Dr. Bill Thomas became the founder of a movement and one of today’s most influential pioneers in the field of aging.

All because he replaced an outmoded frame (clinical) with an accurate one (emotional).

That’s the power of a Reframe – it can change the way you view your life, your work, your team. A Reframe can change everything.

In our practice we specialize in helping organizations and leaders Reframe their reality so that they can Refocus their efforts in the present to Reimagine their future.  We help organizations develop the sudden ability to see things clearly, and in a completely new way and, in so doing, spark change.

We’d love to help you! You can read more here, and reach out to us here.

(You can read more about Dr. Bill Thomas in Atul Gawande’s book  Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters Most In The End, published in 2014 by Metropolitan Books)