HMB440’s Virtual Tour of The Hogeweyk: An Inspirational Lesson in Compassion

By Shannon Snelling


Why is it that we need a crisis to awaken ourselves to a societal lapse in empathy?

We are living through a critical social moment in history where society is waking up to injustices. Undoubtably, here in Ontario the crisis in long-term care homes during COVID-19 has been one of those injustices.

Everyone watching the news has been horrified at the images and statistics of deaths in long-term care. Our horror is new, but the problem is not. People in long-term care have faced prejudice and marginalization for decades. Our society ships vulnerable people away into social and physical isolation. This has been happening for far longer anyone would want to believe.  

Not everyone has been blind to this crisis.

Eloy van Hal is a man enlightened to a problem in our society that has been hidden in plain sight. And more than that, he has had the courage and conviction to do something about it.

Eloy helped found a world-renown community called The Hogeweyk in the Netherlands. Famously dubbed “Dementia Village” by the press, this community and its staff are dedicated to re-humanizing and de-institutionalizing care for those afflicted with dementia.

Instead of a hospital-like building, The Hogeweyk looks like an everyday neighbourhood. Grocery stores, shops, personalized homes, and friendly faces greet you on the streets. The only big difference? Everyone in the community lives with dementia.

Over reading week, HMB440 had the pleasure of virtually visiting The Hogeweyk and being introduced to a new philosophy to approaching long-term care.

Eloy and his organization have disrupted the traditional image of a nursing home to create a community where independence and autonomy is fostered. Everyone needs a social life, friendship, and normalcy to be their most well selves. The Hogeweyk gives that to residents. By thinking about dementia through a social lens instead of a medical one, Eloy’s team has created an environment filled with compassion and dignity.

HMB440 has been given a lot to think about. The Hogeweyk is inspirational and proves that our problems in long-term care are not insurmountable.

In this moment of social change, we have a wonderful opportunity to adopt The Hogeweyk’s philosophy of de-institutionalization and re-humanization in long-term care here in Ontario.

One day, the students in HMB440 could look back at our virtual tour as part of a pivotal change in how we think about justice and dignity for those in long-term care. It is our responsibility as students to make that future a reality.