Ecumen Awakenings Receives Business Journal Eureka! Award for Innovation
Date: Sep 9th, 2015 7:00am


Ben Taylor

The Ecumen Awakenings™ program designed to care for elderly dementia patients without the use of highly sedating drugs has won the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal’s 2015 Eureka! award for innovation. 

The Business Journal created the Eureka! awards to recognize “new products and processes that have reshaped not just a business, but an industry.”

This year, the Business Journal recognized 26 winners across a variety of industries following a competitive judging process.  Ecumen received the award in a June 25 ceremony and is featured in the June 26 Business Journal Weekly Edition recognizing the winners.

Last year, Ecumen received national recognition for Awakenings with the Excellence in Dementia Care Award given by LeadingAge, a national association of nonprofit aging services providers.  The award recognizes extraordinary leadership in the quest to improve lives of those touched by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

“Award recognition for our work is welcome and inspiring,” said Shelley Matthes, Ecumen Senior Director of Quality Improvement and Resource Utilization. “But the highest reward is knowing that what we are doing is making a profound difference in the lives of those in our care.  Awakenings is an innovation that truly makes lives better.” 

Awakenings is an integrated care program where residents, their families, doctors and care staff all work together to replace traditional drug therapies with individualized techniques that reduce anxiety and difficult behaviors.

Awakenings was developed by Ecumen care professionals working with physician and pharmacist partners concerned about antipsychotic drug effects on elderly patients.  The work began as a pilot program in 2009 at Ecumen Scenic Shores in Two Harbors, Minn.  Over six months, use of antipsychotics and other psychotropic medications were eliminated in all cases when no psychosis was diagnosed.

The care center went from a very sedate, quiet place to a much livelier setting in which many residents began engaging in activities. The State of Minnesota awarded Ecumen a $3.7 million performance-based “innovation grant” to expand this work. Since then, Awakenings continues to grow, and currently is being introduced into 14 Ecumen assisted living communities, also with the help of a state grant.

Between 2010 and 2013, Ecumen Awakenings decreased the dosage or discontinued use of more than 1,000 psychotropic medications and reduced the use of antipsychotics among people without a diagnosis of psychosis by 97%.  Quality of life improvements included increased alertness, mobility, laughter, more restful sleep, fewer falls, enhanced verbal ability, singing, ability to exercise and reductions or eliminations of erratic mood swings, hallucinations and outbursts.

Awakenings has received considerable media attention, both nationally and locally, in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Duluth News Tribune and KARE 11 TV in Minneapolis.  [Links to these stories are provided on the Awakening website at, by clicking the “In the News” tab.]

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