William H. Thomas (physician)

Dr. Bill Thomas
Born October 13, 1959(1959-10-13)
Tioga County, New York, USA
Residence Ithaca, New York
Nationality American

Dr. Bill Thomas (born October 13, 1959) is an international authority on geriatric medicine and eldercare from upstate New York. He is the founder of the Eden Alternative, a philosophy and program that de-institutionalized nursing homes in all 50 states and worldwide over the past 20 years. A self-described “Nursing Home Abolitionist,” he is also creator of the Green House (Nursing Home), a radically new approach to long term care where nursing homes are torn down and replaced with small, home-like environments where people can live a full and interactive life. In 2005, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced a five year $10 million grant that will result in the creation of Green House projects in all fifty states.[1] As a professor at The Erickson School at UMBC UMBC, Thomas led development of the nation's first emergency department designed for older adults[2].



Born in Tioga County, N.Y., Thomas wrote of his childhood in Nichols, N.Y, “I was surrounded by older relatives since the day I was born and thought of my grandmother's house as an extension of my own. I think that the most important thing I learned was that older relatives were valuable and esteemed members of the extended family. In fact, they were the glue that held the family together.”[3]

In 2008, The Wall Street Journal named Thomas among the 12 most influential Americans shaping aging in the 21st Century[4] U.S. News and World Report described Thomas as a revolutionary, “With his startling common-sense ideas and his ability to persuade others to take a risk, this creative and wildly exuberant 46-year-old country doctor has become something of a culture changer--reimagining how Americans will approach aging in the 21st century. And with 35 million Americans over 65--a number that will double by 2030--that takes a big imagination indeed.”[5]

A popular public speaker, Thomas travels from his home 35 to 40 times per year to lecture in the U.S., Australia, Asia and Europe. From 1991 to 2007, Thomas operated a small farm in Sherburne, N.Y., where he built a house powered entirely by wind and solar energy[5] He now resides in Ithaca, N.Y., with his wife, Judith Meyers-Thomas, three sons and two daughters. His daughters were born with a rare and catastrophic neurologic condition known as “Ohtahara Syndrome.”[6]


Thomas attended the State University College at Cortland, where he earned a B.S. in Biology, summa cum laude, in 1982. While in college, he ran successfully for the presidency of the college's Student Association and unsuccessfully for mayor of the city of Cortland. Thomas graduated from Harvard Medical School (1986), where he was a founding editor of Murmurs, a quarterly journal of opinion. Thomas went on to graduate medical training in the Highland Hospital/University of Rochester Family Medicine Residency, where he was selected by the Mead Johnson Foundation as one of the top Family Medicine residents in the country.[7] Though he planned on a career in emergency medicine, a part-time position as the medical director of a small rural nursing home in New Berlin, N.Y., turned into a full-time and life long passion for improving the well being of older people.[8] Thomas added a Certificate in Geriatrics in 1994 and opened a geriatric medical practice that grew to become a multi-physician group. Although he left full-time medical practice in 2004, he continues to lecture at the SUNY Health Science Center’s Clinical Campus in Binghamton. In 2007, he was appointed as Professor of Aging Studies and Distinguished Fellow at UMBC’s Erickson School in Baltimore, MD.[9]

Long Term Care Reform

Thomas and his wife developed the Eden Alternative in the early 1990s as a philosophy to deinstitutionalize long term care facilities by alleviating the "three plagues" of boredom, helplessness and loneliness. The Eden Alternative put forward a critique of the status quo in long-term care and offered a creative way to “change the culture” of nursing homes by bringing growth and laughter into the lives of elders. The philosophy called for fundamental changes in the relationship between staff and management and introduced pets, gardens and children to nursing homes. Thomas founded the Eden Alternative non-profit organization in 1994, which has grown to include affiliates in Japan, Australia, Scandinavia, Europe, Canada and the United Kingdom as well as the fifty states. Dr. Thomas continues to serve as its president.

In spreading the Eden Alternative philosophy nationwide, Thomas said he saw that America’s nursing home buildings were “aging faster than the people living inside them.” This led him to imagine a new approach to long-term that became known as the Green House. Supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Dr. Thomas oversaw the construction of the nation’s first Green Houses. In 2005, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced a five-year ten million dollar grant to support the launch of Green House projects in all fifty states.[10] In November, 2008, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) said the Green House model "has shown promise for both improving the quality of life and care in these settings," and should be piloted.[11][12] ProviderMagaine.com in May 2010 called The Green House Project the "pinnacle" of culture change in long term care.

In 2008, Thomas led a team of experts from the Erickson School of Aging Studies at UMBC to create the nation's first elder-friendly emergency department at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland.[13] The separate ER was scientifically designed to reduce anxiety, confusion and the risk of falling.[14]

Thomas received the 12th Annual Heinz Award for the Human Condition[15] in 2006 for his contributions to long term care: "With contagious enthusiasm and an unwavering vision, Dr. William Thomas has helped bring dignity, joy and love into an environment that has been too long lacking in these essential human qualities. As America continues to age, his transformation of our system of long-term care provides a timely prescription for the care of generations to come."


Thomas’ first book on the initial Eden Alternative implementation project in upstate New York, “The Eden Alternative: Nature Hope and Nursing Homes,” was published by the University of Missouri Press in 1994.

In 1999, Thomas published “In the Arms of Elders,” a novel that highlighted the dignity and value of older people. Thomas adapted the novel into a two-act one-man stage play and organized a 27 city, 10,000 mile, 30 day theatrical tour that stretched from Boston to San Diego. The tour raised approximately 75,000 dollars for a wide range of local aging services organizations and introduced thousands of people to the message of the Eden Alternative.[16]

His most recent book, What Are Old People For? “draws on sources as diverse as Shakespearean sonnets and Greek philosophy and returns (as Thomas always does) to the firmly rooted idea that old age is no accident. Thomas says, ‘People of all ages will live better lives when we succeed in bringing elders back to the heart of our society.’”[17]

His other books include:


· AARP Visiting Scholar

· Ashoka North American Fellow

· America’s Award

· 12th Heinz Award for the Human Condition[15]

· One of America’s Best Leaders (Kennedy School Government)

· AAHSA Distinguished Service Award

· AHCA Public Service Award

· Giraffe Award[7]

External links


  1. ^ "Reformers Seek to Reinvent Nursing Homes" by Joseph Shapiro
  2. ^ [Washington Post, "Serenity in Emergencies" http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/26/AR2009012601872.html]
  3. ^ [www.TimeGoesBy.net Oct. 29, 2007 http://www.timegoesby.net/weblog/2007/10/dr-william-h-th.html]
  4. ^ [ Wall Street Journal, “12 People Who Are Changing Your Retirement” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120283234025062481.html]
  5. ^ a b [U.S. News and World Report, “The Greening of Aging” http://www.usnews.com/usnews/biztech/articles/060619/19leader.htm]
  6. ^ www.ChangingAging.org , “Who is Dr. Bill Thomas?”
  7. ^ a b http://www.vandb.com/authorthomas.html
  8. ^ Talk of the Nation on NPR: http://www.npr.org/blogs/talk/2009/03/building_a_better_nursing_home.html
  9. ^ Erickson School at UMBC faculty biography:
  10. ^ The Wall Street Journal, “Rising Challenger Takes on Elder-Care System” http://webreprints.djreprints.com/1976501147285.pdf
  11. ^ http://www.ncbcapitalimpact.org/uploadedFiles/downloads/BaucusHealthReformWhitePaper11-13-08.pdf
  12. ^ Provider Magazine
  13. ^ [Washington Post, "Serenity in Emergencies" http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/26/AR2009012601872.html?sid=ST2009012601965]
  14. ^ [Holy Cross Health, "Seniors Emergency Center" http://www.holycrosshealth.org/svc_emergency_seniorcenter.htm]
  15. ^ a b The Heinz Awards, William Thomas profile
  16. ^ www.ChangingAging.org , “Who is Dr. Bill Thomas?” http://changingaging.org/?page_id=2
  17. ^ U.S. News and World Report, “The Greening of Aging” http://www.usnews.com/usnews/biztech/articles/060619/19leader.htm

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