STAT News reported on the pioneering geriatrician Dr. Bill Thomas and the 330-square-foot, plywood-boned home he calls a Minka.  The structure is warm, light, and surprisingly roomy, in a studio loft sort of way. Four oversize windows look out onto the lake, a shed-style roof rising to the view.  In the back corner, across from a big bathroom compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, sits a full-size bed. On the other side of a plumbing-filled wall from the bathroom is a kitchen and countertop, made from Ikea components. (The term “Minka” has Japanese origins, as a traditional house for rural dwellers, typically those of modest financial means.)

The idea sounds, in one sense, simple: create and market small, senior-friendly houses like this one and sell them for around $75,000, clustered like mushrooms in tight groups or tucked onto a homeowner’s existing property so caregivers or children can occupy the larger house and help when needed.  The initiative has turned Thomas into a rare breed: the physician homebuilder, and it pits him not only against the nursing home industry, but also the housing industry, with its proclivity for bigger and bigger spaces.

“I spent my career trying to change the nursing home industry,” he said. “But I’ve come to realize it’s not really going to change. So now what I’ve got to do is make it so people don’t need nursing homes in the first place. That what this is about.

Thomas wants to help people grow older on their own turf and terms, while helping spare them the fiscal and physical stress of maintaining  homes.  In so doing, he hopes to shield them from the mouth of a funnel that too often summons elders to a grim march — from independent living, to assisted living, to nursing homes, to memory units, and to the grave.

Thomas said he’s less interested in growing wealthy from the idea than in changing the culture of senior housing.

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