It’s August 11, 2005. The hot summer sun is bearing down outside. Inside, a group of volunteers are gathered around a table. They’re concerned about the future of their organization. Finally, a leader speaks up and draws a figurative line in the sand.

“Christopher Tomlin told our board meeting that we either move forward or we move backward, but that Methodist Homes cannot exist as it was on that day.” Methodist Homes Chairman Robert McKee recalled recently.

Dining room and kitchen inside a skilled nursing household at Fair Haven.

Dining room and kitchen inside a skilled nursing household at Fair Haven.

That day marked the beginning of a transformation of Fair Haven Retirement Community in Birmingham and in greater part the Methodist Homes of Alabama & Northwest Florida. Making the decision to improve Fair Haven was easy. The hard part was turning the dream into reality.

It took thousands of people, 645 days of construction and $42.5 million to complete the project. More than 500 people celebrated Fair Haven’s transformation November 17 with a ribbon cutting and dedication.

“The journey what began 12 years ago may seem like it is ending, but it is not just because we’re complete,” Methodist Homes President & CEO Christopher Tomlin said before cutting the ribbon. “We recognized long ago that the need for re-inventing who we were, at least physically at the time, was upon us. But, it’s not really about the physical component you see before your eyes.”

The redeveloped campus includes a new skilled nursing care center, 42 private accommodations for short-term rehabilitation guests, 30 accommodations for people needing advanced Alzheimer’s/dementia care, an assisted living center and independent living apartments. In total, Fair Haven is the largest continuing care retirement community in Alabama with the ability to care for 385 individuals.

While the physical transformation is stunning, Tomlin said the most important change is in the way care is delivered to Fair Haven residents.

“Throughout this process, we worked tirelessly to rid ourselves of the institutional cultures which we and everyone else in the long-term care profession inherited,” Tomlin said. “We’re working tirelessly to create ‘home’ where residents can rise when they want, eat what they want, do what they want and be whoever they want to be.”

Household Model

Living room inside a skilled nursing household at Fair Haven.

Living room inside a skilled nursing household at Fair Haven.

Fair Haven is the first retirement community in the south to embrace the Household Model. The Household Model replicates the look and feel of life at home in the community setting. A front door with doorbell is the first clue that Fair Haven’s households are nothing like traditional facilities. Once welcomed inside a household, you’ll find a large living room with fireplace, sun room, den, therapeutic spa and more, with a home-like kitchen where meals are prepared and served. Visibly missing from the household settings are nurses’ stations, med carts and other institutional equipment that do not reflect home.

Steve Shields, CEO of Action Pact which redesigned Fair Haven’s campus, is the creator of the Household Model and a nationally-recognized authority on changing the culture of institutional care communities.

“Most organizations pick the easy part; everyone can get their head around the physical renovations,” Shields said at the ribbon cutting. “What makes the client [Fair Haven] stand out and one that you know will make deep, impactful community and cultural change is when they embrace all the elements.” Those elements, Shields explained, are not only physical changes, but also financial, social, operational and spiritual changes.

Entrance to Fair Haven in Birmingham.

Entrance to Fair Haven in Birmingham.

Private dining room inside a skilled nursing household at Fair Haven.

Private dining room inside a skilled nursing household at Fair Haven.