Nursing Home Environment Teaches Balance of Safety and Independence

BIRMINGHAM, AL – It’s tempting for anyone who works in the medical profession, especially with older adults, to sacrifice patient independence in favor of patient safety. But there can be a balance. In order to satisfy the high expectations of today’s seniors, which now includes the Baby Boomers, physicians need to understand how to help their patients strike a balance between safety and independence.

A collaboration between Birmingham’s largest retirement community and Alabama’s largest hospital provides a training ground for future geriatric physicians, as well as other medical disciplines. Dr. Ginnie Prater is Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics, and Palliative Care at The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Medicine. She is also Fair Haven’s medical director, overseeing the medical care for up to 259 long-term care and short-term rehabilitation patients. Under supervision, learners who are geriatric medicine fellows, palliative medicine fellows, and medical residents in UAB’s School of Medicine get the opportunity for ‘real world’ experience at Fair Haven.

“Having an academic geriatric practice inside a nursing home allows us to bring best practices and guidelines to Fair Haven, and to spread that knowledge to our learners,” said Dr. Prater. “We teach our learners the value of maintaining quality of life, maintaining preferences and being person-centered.”

In 2017, Fair Haven’s campus was redeveloped to create households for three quarters of its care population. The entire campus will ultimately make the transition. The household model of care involves, to the highest extent possible, honoring patient preferences and providing a means for residents to continue enjoying the daily pleasures that give their life meaning day to day. This patient-centered, home-like setting may seem at odds with medical care, which is usually provided in a hospital-like setting. However, Dr. Prater explains that providing medical care in the context of home takes into account the wellness of the whole person.

“People have psychosocial, emotional and spiritual needs, too. You can’t separate them.” Dr. Prater stressed. “Taking care of a person involves the whole person.”

Dr. Prater believes that the knowledge of how care works in Fair Haven’s nursing home setting can help these doctors in training with whatever specialty they eventually choose. The learners get exposure to regulations, patient histories, working with families, coordinating medical care, and working with other members of the interdisciplinary team.

“Learners discover how to deal with issues that are unique to a long-term care and post-acute care setting, such as nursing home policy considerations,” said Dr. Prater. “Long-term care is a perfect place for future physicians to learn because we have to work as an interdisciplinary team, so they are able to see how different disciplines can work together for older adults.”

For information about the Rehabilitation Center at Fair Haven, or for details on our how to make Fair Haven your or your loved one’s new home, contact our admissions team at 205-956-4150, or send an email to


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