This was the situation for my family in 2014:
My mother, Ruth, 82, was in a nursing home in Boynton Beach, Florida. She had moved there after starting to show signs of mild dementia and the beginnings of Parkinson's. My father, Edward, 85, who still lived in their home, visited her every single day, checking up on her care and bringing her meals… and love.
After a year of this routine, which followed several years during which Dad cared for Mom at home, my father was physically worn out. After much discussion, my father, my sisters and I agreed that he should scale back. He moved into a senior independent living residence in Boca Raton, a wonderful place with lots of people for him to interact with. He no longer had to come home to an empty house, he had lots of friends, the staff prepared meals the way he liked and, if he needed it, a car was available. He was so happy, and it felt good knowing he was so well taken care of.
With my father no longer able to keep an eagle eye on my mother, and my parents now in separate facilities 40 minutes apart, my sisters and I decided to see if we could move our mother into the nursing home attached to my father’s facility. Well, we found a place for her there… after waiting almost nine months. She moved in in December, but just a little over two months later, in February 2015, my father passed away unexpectedly.
After consulting with Mom, my sisters and I decided to move her back to New York, where we had grown up and where two of us live. It was a big decision—my parents had spent 27 years in Florida—but my mother was OK with it.
Of course before we could move her, we had to apply for New York State Medicaid. Even though my mother had Medicaid in Florida, the process of getting Medicaid in New York was long and arduous.
Still, the biggest challenge was to find the right place for Mom to live. Unlike Florida, which has lots of nursing homes to choose from, Manhattan has few options. Frankly, the pickings are slim and it was very hard to find a place that we liked and where we thought Mom would be comfortable.
At some point we learned about the Small Houses, the Green House™-based small-groups homes on the Westchester campus of The New Jewish Home. While Westchester is not as convenient for my family as Manhattan, we decided to visit and were so impressed. Of course, as with everything else associated with this transition, getting my mother into one of the three Small Houses was not straightforward. There was the predictable waiting list, which we put her on, and hoped for the best while we continued to expand our search to areas outside but near Manhattan.
After months of searching and of working with lawyers, doctors and bankers to get all of Mom’s paperwork in order, my sisters and I were becoming desperate. Almost panicked, I put in another call to the Admissions office at The New Jewish Home. As luck would have it, a space had become available.
My family was so relieved, but not just because we had finally found a home—a wonderful home—for Mom. We were relieved because there was simply no comparison between the other places we had visited and The New Jewish Home, both in terms of the way the staff treated us—their “customer service,” you might say—and the Small House philosophy. Everything about the experience was comforting and supportive and easy. Even the application was more user-friendly and less intimidating than the ones we got from some of the other places.
As for the Small House where my mother now lives, it is amazing! My mother is a big fish in little pond, and she’s tickled pink. She does ceramics, which she never would have tried before. She looks forward to music therapy, in which she participates wholeheartedly. Most important, she has people around her who care deeply about her, and whether I’m there or not, I know they are giving my mother the best care possible.
(As an aside, I am not only blown away by the care my mother receives, but by the care all of the residents receive. One woman no longer has the ability to speak, but that doesn’t stop the aides from giving her as much attention as they give everyone else. They attend to her as if she were their own parent, helping her put on her lipstick and the perfume that she loves.)
And the food—it is wonderful. At my mother’s first nursing home in Florida, my father had to bring all her meals because the food was inedible and she was losing weight. Here, the food is so good that, when I’m visiting if Mom does not finish what’s on her plate, I eat it! And if she wants something special, the aides cook it for her. She only has to ask. The residents even help create menus at their monthly house meetings, and many of their recommendations end up on the dining room table.
If I had to sum up what makes the Small House idea so powerful, I would say that it is the respect and the caring. The people who work there make my mother feel as if she has choices, because she does—about when to get up, what to do with her day, what tasty things to eat. And that is so important given how few choices she, like other older adults, has in other areas of her life. Every staff member I have dealt with has been so kind and giving, to my family as well as to Mom. That speaks not only to how well trained the staff is, but also to how happy they are in their jobs. And you definitely want happy people caring for the people you love.
It has been a long journey, but Mom is now in the most supportive, the most respectful, the most caring place possible. My sisters and I all agree moving Mom was the best decision we have ever made.
Hear more of Chari's story at the upcoming Long-Term Care Regional Roundtable.
Chari Tager is a dedicated daughter who enjoys spending her free time with her mother Ruth, a current resident at one of The New Jewish Home’s Small Houses in Westchester.