A Decade of the St. John’s Green House Homes: An Oral History

The St. John’s Green House Homes welcomed new residents for the first time on February 28, 2012. However, the story of these 10-person nursing homes began years before the opening—and continues today. Hear how it all started and why the houses continue to thrive from some of the talented individuals who spearheaded, established, and refined these first of their kind small nursing homes.

St. John’s hosted a ribbon-cutting event in the Fall of 2011, following years of planning and development. Between that event and the opening of the houses, would-be staff trained in the houses in anticipation of new residents moving in.

Susan Ryan- Senior Director of the Green House Project and project manager for the development of St. John’s Green House Homes in Penfield: The (St. John’s) organization had been on a culture change journey for several years, so the passion for change and doing better was part of the culture.

Mimi DeVinney- St. John’s Quality of Life Specialist and recreation lead for the houses when they opened: In many ways the nursing home culture change movement was fostered right here in our area—particularly with the Pioneer Network.

Nate Sweeney- St. John’s Vice President of Skilled Services: St. John’s Penfield Green House homes are built not as an addition to a campus, but as an organic part of a local neighborhood. The homes are indistinguishable from the other single family and town houses that surround them, but are licensed together as one of the smallest nursing homes in the nation.

Dr. Allen Power– Geriatrician, Author, and Educator and Assistant Medical Director for St. John’s when the houses opened: There was only one other community in New York State that had opened them (Green House homes) at that time.

Susan Ryan: Until the Penfield homes, all other Green House homes had been built on the campuses of senior living communities.

Rebecca Priest- The first Guide at the St. John’s Green House Homes: From the moment we started planning these houses I could really feel the momentum . . .

Linda McCoy- Dietary Practice Partner at St. John’s: We all believed so passionately that this was the right thing—and wanted it to succeed—that we were willing to do whatever it took.

Mimi DeVinney: It was a lot of hard work, it was a lot of vision, and it was a lot of commitment. There were a lot of hard conversations—people had to really communicate and become team members at a higher level than they were used to.

Rebecca Priest: We kept telling ourselves that “luck favors the prepared.” So we just kept preparing to open the houses, almost like it was a big game we were working towards.

Dr. Allen Power: We had to overcome a lot of regulatory barriers . . .  

Genevieve Dean- LPN at the houses since 2012: When we were training as nurses here (before opening) and we were trying to figure out how we were going to do a (medication) pass. We no longer had a med cart and we had medications locked up in a cabinet. We were standing around, fumbling everything, wondering how we were going to do everything and carry everything. And now it’s just second nature.

Dr. Allen Power: We had an incredibly collaborative planning process. Our group dynamics—honesty, trust, and positive focus—were at a high point. I remember telling myself to remember those days, because it is often only once in a career—if that—when someone gets to be a part of such a well-functioning, creative, and successful workgroup.

The St. John’s Green Houses—like all communities that follow the Green House Project’s model—are staffed by universal workers called shahbazim.

Nate Sweeney: A universal worker team provides the cooking, cleaning, laundry, engagement, and care support to elders.

Melanie Meyvis- Director of Nursing: There’s no strict regimen—it’s catered specifically around what the resident wants.

Ashok Kumar- Shahbaz at the houses since 2012: There are no assignments. Whoever needs help you just go help them.

Wendy Stopani- Shahbaz: People can get up (in the morning and) they can go right to the table. They can get whatever they want at breakfast. They can go right back to bed if they want.

Leonie McFarlane- Shahbaz: It’s different from a regular nursing home. It’s like home.

Mimi DeVinney: The staff has always been unique at the houses and that’s one of the great things about them. Everyone brings their own specialties and their own individual talents. These are the things that really make the houses a home, but they happen organically. They just need a little time to grow.

Susan Ryan: Instead of having a group activity among other elders with the senior living community, they were having block parties with their neighbors, sharing the walking path with others in the neighborhood, and exchanging gardening secrets with each other . . . just as we would do in our own homes and neighborhoods.



The hard work and lessons learned from the early years at the St. John’s Green House Homes have helped the houses continue to function properly while providing exceptional care and meaningful opportunities for engagement each and every day.

Rebecca Priest: Here’s the thing about the Penfield Homes: everything about them has beaten the odds. They beat the odds by opening and they’ve beaten the odds by the amount of incredible staff members who are still working there today since the beginning. But even better is how the people who have come to live there have thrived.

Dr. Allen Power: One of the most impressive things to me upon helping my mother move in 8 ½ years after their opening was seeing so many faces of staff who were there from the start. The consistency and longevity of the shahbazim is such a critical factor, and it immediately set my mind at ease to see so many of my favorite people still there on that day and still there to this day.   

Genevieve Dean: We’ve always had a good foundation with the entire family. When family members move their loved one in they often are nervous and visit a lot. Some of them end up starting to back off because they trust us that much with their loved one and their care. We just—pretty quickly—turned into one big family here.

Lisaann Maynard- Guide: The families know their loved ones are very much cared for.

Susan Ryan: There were many elders who literally “woke up” as they encountered the power of home, relationships, and community to engender meaningful life.

Nate Sweeney: The Staff members that work at St. John’s Green House homes have helped to radically reimagine what nursing homes can be. St. John’s employees embraced the initial model as a guideline, but grew in their own leadership and skills to continuously translate that plan into reality.   

Dr. Al Power: And of course, both the structural design and the operational features of the Green House model have proven themselves during the pandemic with markedly lower incidences of infection in Green House homes, compared with other long-term care environments.

Mimi DeVinney: Things that are worthwhile . . . you have to work for.

Linda McCoy: The feeling is still there.  When I walk in (one of the houses) today I still feel different.

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