What do “Sesame Street” and senior living have in common? Ask Lou Woolf and he will give you a rather unexpected answer.
“Older adults and children have far more capability than we think they do,” Woolf says. “They learn things and have a tremendous amount to add to society.”
Woolf, who is president and CEO of Hebrew SeniorLife in Boston, began his career in consumer research and marketing. One of his first jobs was at the Children’s Television Workshop, which produces the iconic television show “Sesame Street.” That experience helped him to see the similarities in how society treats people on opposite ends of the age spectrum. Just as “Sesame Street” accepted the then-radical concept that children understand far more than we’re likely to assume, older people can continue to learn, grow, and engage with the world no matter their physical and cognitive abilities – but an ageist society often doesn’t grant them that freedom.
Woolf brought that progressive and perceptive attitude to his work at HSL when he joined the system in 2009. An affiliate of Harvard Medical School, HSL serves more than 3,000 seniors through multiple levels of care across eight campuses in Massachusetts.
On a recent episode of the “Elevate Eldercare” podcast, Woolf discussed his eldercare philosophy and HSL’s innovative R3 program with Green House senior director Susan Ryan. Right Care, Right Place, Right Time is a pioneering program that provides integrated, affordable housing and on-site services for elders that have proven to be cost effective – while reducing trips to the ER and hospital stays, and improving overall quality of life for elders in the program.
Research has shown the R3 program brought about “dramatic cost savings for a relatively modest expenditure,” Woolf said. “It’s captured the enthusiasm of many.”
Woolf is proud of the R3 program’s success to date and strives to fight limiting beliefs associated with old age. He says we need to assume older adults still possess great potential and retain engagement and purpose. Prospective residents are asked about their goals when they come to live at HSL, and staff are encouraged to contribute ideas on care as well.
Woolf called on eldercare professionals to “adopt that sense of optimism about older people and give older adults more credit.” Once that foundation is built, he says, the rest can be “magical.”
Woolf is excited to spread the word about R3, welcoming others around the country to reach out to learn more about it so they can implement similar vibrant, coordinated programs in their communities. He believes sharing R3 program specifics and data can have a huge impact to improve eldercare nationwide.
The Green House Project counts itself among those enthusiastic about the R3 program and its benefits. It represents a common-sense, proactive, economical, and positive approach to the serious issues facing long-term care. And it works. What’s not to like?
It really is the right time for such an effective, replicable and worthy endeavor. To awkwardly paraphrase lyrics from the famed “Sesame Street” theme song, R3 may be a way to get to a place where friendly neighbors meet and the air is sweet — for elders, their families, and staff.
Listen to the Elevate Eldercare podcast on Spotify, Apple, Stitcher, or via The Green House Project’s website, www.thegreenhouseproject.org/podcast.