Aging is changing

In the past, nurs­ing homes have been modeled after hos­pit­als, not homes. Throughout the North­east, that concept is rap­idly chan­ging. 

  • The art therapy and physical therapy space at Philadelphia Protestant Home. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Enjoying the upgrade: Residents at Philadelphia Protestant Home take a walk around the new lounge area with a water fountain in the background. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Bill Conaway shows the Philadelphia Protestant Home beauty salon, which offers full nail and hair services. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • The dining area at Wesley Enhanced Living, offers residents different meal options. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Enjoying the upgrade: A wait staff helps residents order their meals at the Wesley Enhanced Living dining hall. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

“Nurs­ing homes” are rarely called that any­more. “Skilled nurs­ing fa­cil­it­ies” or “man­aged-care com­munit­ies” are the more com­mon names. But they are what they are: res­id­ences for eld­erly people who need med­ic­al at­ten­tion.

In the past dec­ade or so, there’s been a tan­gible change in how these homes — whatever they’re called — op­er­ate. Long modeled to be in­sti­tu­tions that look like hos­pit­als, many of them have been al­ter­ing their looks, their build­ings, their din­ing choices and their life­styles to be­come more like what they’re sup­posed to be: homes.

After all, said Bill Con­away, dir­ect­or of com­munity re­la­tions for the Phil­adelphia Prot­est­ant Home in Lawndale, “Who wants to go to an in­sti­tu­tion?”

“For people who live here, this is a home, not something like home, home,” said Mary Beth Linde, dir­ect­or of hu­man ser­vices at Paul’s Run in Bustleton.

That’s wasn’t how nurs­ing homes used to op­er­ate, she said. 

“We got it very wrong for a very long time. We did things for the staff’s con­veni­ence,” she said dur­ing a June 21 in­ter­view at Paul’s Run. 

“But we had the au­da­city to call it a home.”

A nurs­ing home, its equip­ment and its per­son­nel were more like off­shoots of hos­pit­als, said Ken Fra­niak, the chief op­er­at­ing of­ficer of Wes­ley En­hanced Liv­ing, which has fa­cil­it­ies at 8401 Roosevelt Blvd. and 7040 Ox­ford Ave. in the North­east.

Nurs­ing homes, he said, “looked, felt and tasted like a hos­pit­al.”

For the past eight years, Fra­niak said, Wes­ley has been mov­ing to change that.

“We’re try­ing not to be the same old same old,” he said. “We’re try­ing to get away from an in­sti­tu­tion­al feel.”

Changes have been oc­cur­ring at Paul’s Run over the past sev­er­al years. In April, Linde said, Paul’s Run’s Halle Health Cen­ter altered its look and the way it does things for its 120 res­id­ents. To help move away from a tra­di­tion­al med­ic­al mod­el, each floor was di­vided in­to a dif­fer­ent neigh­bor­hood. 

For ex­ample, there’s Casino Way, Eagles Av­en­ue and Hol­ly­wood Boulevard, Linde said. Staff and res­id­ents dec­or­ate the hall­ways and com­mon areas of their neigh­bor­hoods them­selves, she said, and staffers are closer to res­id­ents and do more with them. Rooms, din­ing, daily sched­ules and activ­it­ies are more per­son­al­ized. Res­id­ents have choices of activ­it­ies and din­ing times, and more menu choices, too.         

Res­id­ent Thelma Bar­bieri has been at Paul’s Run for al­most four years and she’s no­ticed the change.

“I do more. I eat bet­ter and have more of a so­cial life,” she said.

For nurs­ing as­sist­ant Iris Taylor, one of the big trans­form­a­tions has been in res­id­ents’ out­looks and how they in­ter­act with each oth­er and with staffers. 

One res­id­ent has been si­lent for years, Taylor said, and she has be­gun speak­ing.

“She says a lot now,” Taylor said.

More than 12 per­cent of Phil­adelphia’s 1.5 mil­lion res­id­ents are 65 or older. North­east Philly is home to the most seni­or cit­izens in the city.

This sec­tion of the city has the densest pop­u­la­tion of seni­or cit­izens in the na­tion, said An­thony Manzo, pres­id­ent and CEO of the Phil­adelphia Prot­est­ant Home.

“There are more seni­ors here than in any oth­er part of the coun­try,” he said.

Rhawn­hurst, for ex­ample, has such a high pop­u­la­tion of eld­erly people who con­tin­ue to reside in their own homes that it is called a “nat­ur­ally oc­cur­ring re­tire­ment com­munity.” 

Seni­ors make up more than 20 per­cent of Bustleton’s pop­u­la­tion. In ZIP Code 19111, they are more than 15 per­cent. 

There are sev­er­al re­tire­ment com­munit­ies in the North­east, and they of­fer skilled nurs­ing fa­cil­it­ies as well as in­de­pend­ent liv­ing. Manzo said the Phil­adelphia Prot­est­ant Home star­ted al­ter­ing its ap­proach to its nurs­ing home ser­vices in the late 1990s and in­cor­por­ated those changes in­to Path­ways at its sev­en-build­ing, 12.5-acre Lawndale fa­cil­ity.

The four-story struc­ture has homey fur­niture and a lot of win­dows. Nat­ur­al light, Manzo said, is a big com­pon­ent of the changes in the nurs­ing home in­dustry.

Rooms are large as are com­mon spaces, he said. Col­ors are warm­er, he said. “We really want people to feel it’s more home­like.”

At Path­ways, Manzo said, there are nine “neigh­bor­hoods” on three floors. Fra­niak said Wes­ley began renov­at­ing its Phil­adelphia and sub­urb­an cam­puses eight years ago.

“We have res­taur­ant-style din­ing. … We’re try­ing to not have the typ­ic­al day-to-day activ­it­ies,” he said. “We’re look­ing to res­id­ents to tell us what to do to make their lives bet­ter.”

He said Wes­ley gets res­id­ents out of the build­ing and takes them on trips. “We’re try­ing to be unique. It’s a pro­cess that con­tin­ues,” he said. ••

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