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An Opportunity For the Ages

The Arbors Moves Well Beyond Old-school Thinking
The Arbors, Chicopee

The Arbors, Chicopee

The Arbors recently opened its fifth assisted-living facility in Greenfield, giving the company a wide-ranging presence across Western Mass. at a time when the need for assisted-living services is on the rise. But the Arbors’ most striking success story might be in Chicopee, where seniors sometimes get to hang out with the little kids next door.

Say you’ve got a prime slice of real estate on Memorial Drive in Chicopee, you’re building an assisted-living facility, and you’ve got several acres left over. What do you do?

In some cases, it depends on your kids.

A few years ago, siblings Carol Veratti and Ernie Gralia III faced that very question upon purchasing the land on which they would build their third Arbors assisted-living center, following facilities in Amherst and Taunton.

With 12 acres in reserve, the partners decided to provide a chance for Veratti’s son, Gary, and her son-in-law, Shad Hanrahan, to run a very different business on the property — but one equally focused on caring for others. And that’s how Arbors Kids was born.

“I went to school for early childhood education, and so did my brother-in-law, so we said, ‘let’s build a child-care center,’” said Hanrahan, now director of Arbors Kids.

Today, it stands along Route 33 as a testament to seizing opportunities — and providing unique interactive experiences for children and seniors alike. And it makes the Arbors one of the few companies providing on-site services to clients ranging in age from a few weeks old to 101.

Getting On with Life

That 101-year-old at the Arbors in Chicopee speaks to the fact that not all senior citizens need regular nursing care these days, said Noreen Geraghty, wellness coordinator.

Indeed, when Veratti and Gralia made their transition from construction into business management, it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. In the years following that decision, the average age of Massachusetts residents would continue to rise; meanwhile, not only are senior citizens living longer, but they’re often active and relatively healthy. Those trends — which aren’t likely to reverse course in the coming years — increased the need for assisted-living services.

“We were actually contractors; my dad was a contractor, too,” Veratti said. “We had built housing for the elderly and several nursing homes. We became friendly with some of the owners of the nursing homes, and that led to our transition into assisted living.”

After successfully launching the Arbors at Amherst, Veratti and Gralia went about expanding their business, gradually opening sites in Taunton, Chicopee, and Westfield; the Arbors at Greenfield, which opened on June 1, brings the tally to five centers. Each site includes an Alzheimer’s unit called Reflections, which provides a higher level of care.

The basic assisted-living model at the Arbors offers residents 45 minutes of personal care per day, from bathing, dressing, and light housecleaning to help removing a hearing aid or an escort walking to the dining room.

“I know our staff goes in there more than 45 minutes a day, too — sometimes just to visit,” said Sondra Jones, marketing coordinator.

Medication reminders are an important factor as well, she said. “Sometimes families come to us because mom is forgetting to take her medications, and they’re busy going to work and taking care of their own kids. Here, they don’t have to worry about it.”

However, Jones said, there’s a fine line in assisted living defining what the nurses’ aides on staff can and cannot do for residents. For example, while the nursing staff can remind seniors to take their medications, they cannot crush pills, and residents must be able to swallow them on their own. An aide might help guide the hand of a resident putting in eyedrops, but cannot actually squeeze the dropper.

In many cases, the reminder is the important thing — and is often a key reason why the resident has been placed in assisted living, Geraghty said.

“We have plenty of situations where a daughter comes in and administers medications,” Jones said. “There’s no medicine cart here; residents keep medications in the privacy of their own apartments.”

Senior Circuit

As Geraghty explained, assisted living isn’t meant to be nursing care; that’s why nursing homes exist, for those who need help with daily living that goes beyond a few minutes a day. Meanwhile, the Arbors hosts monthly clinics for blood pressure, vision, hearing, and foot care.

“What’s nice is that this model keeps them independent,” she said. “The goal is for them to stay as independent as they can. And to that end, the building doesn’t have a medical-center feel to it. The apartments feel like home, and we don’t wear uniforms beyond khakis and white shirts.”

“We’re not walking around in scrubs like a nursing-home or hospital environment,” Jones agreed.

She said the Arbors keeps residents occupied with a steady menu of games, activities, and outings, but she noted that they organize many such efforts themselves. This active lifestyle, she suggested, is one reason why assisted living is becoming more popular among seniors who don’t need the round-the-clock care of a nursing home.

“People have told me, ‘my mom fell and broke her hip; she was in rehab, but now I want to get her out of there,’” Jones said. “Sometimes people in nursing homes are so overmedicated that they can’t talk. But here, it’s the socialization that keeps them going — the activities we have, and everyone getting out and doing things together. It’s like an older high school. They can even be gossipy and have certain cliques.”

That said, residents know they’re not teenagers anymore, and they look out for each other, Geraghty said. “At meal times, they’ll knock on each other’s doors,” she said. “They know who’s more forgetful and who missed lunch or who hasn’t eaten for awhile.”

If an aide feels like a resident needs the attention of a doctor, family will be notified, while an ambulance will be called immediately for emergency situations. “Of course, many of them do get sick,” Geraghty said. “We send them out to the hospital, they recuperate, and they come back.”

Many go far beyond merely recuperating. One resident swims three times a week at Elms College — one of many at the Arbors who seem a long time away from nursing-home life.

The Kids Next Door

If the need for assisted-living services is on the rise, Hanrahan learned quickly that education-focused child care is in demand as well; he has seen Arbors Kids gradually become one of the area’s larger centers, with plenty of parents waiting for an opening.

“We started with just a basic infant program, a preschool program, and a small summer camp,” he said, a model that has since grown to include 154 children at the Chicopee site, three off-site after-school programs, a before-school program, and a much larger summer camp — “and a lengthy waiting list.”

He said he and his brother-in-law aimed to build an educational program geared toward getting children ready for kindergarten, but also one built around fun, with a curriculum of creative arts, movement, and music in addition to the expected language skills, motor skills, and number and letter recognition. Those aspects of child care wouldn’t be out of place at any accredited facility. However, the intergenerational program is a different story.

“We’ll have classroom visits, with the residents next door doing projects with the older children on a weekly basis,” Hanrahan said. “The kids also have tea parties with the residents. And they’re working on a garden for the first time, and the residents are helping the children manage the garden.”

Meanwhile, the younger children interact with the seniors as well through seasonal activities such as Easter egg hunts, pumpkin picking days, and Halloween trick-or-treating in the Arbors corridors.

“Believe me, the older people enjoy those things more than the children do,” Hanrahan said, “especially the ones who don’t have grandchildren in the area.”

Since opening the child-care arm of the business, the Arbors has also taken over management of the Mason-Wright Retirement Community in Springfield, as well as the child-care center at that property, which had been a Springfield Day Nursery site.

Hanrahan said he would like to see expansion of the after-school programs the Arbors offers, but chuckled when asked whether another full-service child-care facility is on the horizon. Running one center — keeping up with accreditations; juggling curricula, programs, and food service; and maintaining low turnover on the staff — has been a successful venture, he said, but an all-consuming one.

Still, at the end of the day, it’s the one-on-one interaction he enjoys the most.

“I like greeting the parents every day,” Hanrahan said. “We’re a family business that takes pride in taking care of your family.”

No matter how young, or how old.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at[email protected]