Where Voices Matter
Emeritus of East Longmeadow Caters to Residents’ RequestsPhilip Noto says the difference between Emeritus of East Longmeadow and other local assisted-living facilities can be found in the details.
“It’s easy to get the big things right, but small things play a major role in the happiness of residents,” said the facility’s executive director, noting that this is the reason why he fought to get granite countertops and full-size refrigerators installed in every unit when the building was under construction.
“I had managed other assisted-living facilities and listened to complaints from residents who wanted to keep ice cream in their freezers, but couldn’t do so because of their size. It might sound like a small thing, but paying attention to small things is what sets us apart from other communities,” he told BusinessWest, adding that his insistence on granite countertops was based on the knowledge that many people who move into residential communities are leaving upscale homes and don’t want to downgrade their kitchens.
Nathan Grenon, regional director of sales and marketing, agrees that small measures make a significant difference, and says everyone employed at Emeritus does their best to cater to residents’ requests. He cited an example of a 97-year-old woman who had been a gourmet cook who told them she hoped their chef would make homemade cream of carrot soup.
“She told us she had requested it for five years in another facility, but it was never prepared,” Grenon said. “So, we introduced her to our cook, who made it exactly the way she wanted, and today it is the most popular soup on our menu.”
Noto and Grenon cited myriad other examples of resident suggestions that have led to change within the state-of-the art, two-story, 90,000-square-foot building that opened April 21 on 10 acres of land on Parker Street. “Emeritus is a 25-year-old company; we recently merged with Brookdale Senior Living, and we now have more than 1,150 properties across the country,” Noto said, adding that decades of feedback from seniors were incorporated into the design of the East Longmeadow facility.
The building is airy, spacious, and well-lit. Comfortable chairs surround a cozy gas fireplace near the entrance, where residents gather to socialize or take part in activities. There is also an expansive dining room with a cathedral ceiling, a library, several courtyards, a business area equipped with computers with large touchscreens, a private dining room that can be reserved for family functions, a café where residents can prepare foods they like or enjoy snacks throughout the day or evening, a game room, a movie theater that seats up to 20 people in full-size armchairs, and a plethora of other common living spaces.
“We have 71 assisted-living units and one of the largest, most expansive memory-care neighborhoods in Western Mass.,” said Grenon. “There is a nurse on duty from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and we offer physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy on site.”
In addition to enjoying a full roster of activities, many residents stroll daily on a quarter-mile pathway that circles the building. Benches are set along it so they can stop and relax, and many gravitate to an outdoor gas firepit that burns brightly during inclement weather. In fact, residents enjoy going outside so much that a number of activities scheduled to take place inside are now held outdoors in response to their feedback.
Changing the Landscape
Noto reiterated that seemingly small details, including the food choices on the menu and the daily activities, make a difference in how happy residents feel on a daily basis.
To ensure that staff members know what residents want, Emeritus holds three monthly meetings and invites everyone who resides in the building. One is focused on general suggestions to improve the facility, the second gives people an opportunity to suggest new foods they would like to see served in the dining room, and the third allows them to vote on activities they want to engage in, as well as destinations for day trips.
“This is their home, and we want to get their input so we can adjust our program to meet their needs,” Noto said. “Our residents have a voice. Their concerns are heard, and we change things that are important to them.”
Grenon concurred. “We want to make their experience here as pleasurable as possible.”
Indeed, many changes have been made as a result of the meetings, which range from creating an area in the dining room where male residents can eat together, to rearranging the furniture in a common area and game room.
“The residents wanted to move the poker table into a room of its own, so we did it,” Noto said.
Grenon added that new activities have also been instituted, such as a Bible-study club that meets every Thursday. “The idea came from residents who were interested in spiritual activities,” he noted.The fact that Emeritus does not require people to buy into the facility and residents rent on a month-to-month basis also gives them peace of mind. And although there are scheduled meal times, residents who miss a meal can be served at any time in the dining room. In addition, each unit has its own thermostat, which allows people to adjust the heat or air conditioning to their personal comfort levels.
These factors, combined with the dedication of employees, have led to success, and although the facility has been open only eight months, 45 of the 71 assisted-living units are occupied. Residents range in age from 66 to 99, and the ratio of females to males is about 50-50.
The assisted-living units include one- and two-bedroom suites with one or two baths. Each one contains a microwave, a full-sized refrigerator, and several large closets with a lockbox. The bathrooms have spacious showers with heat lamps and no lips, reducing the risk of tripping. In addition, the transitions between carpeting and wood floors are very smooth, making it easy for people to move through the community.
But Noto said the way residents are treated trumps the beauty and functionality of the real estate, and added that every member of his staff is passionate about their job. “We have an extensive interview process for job candidates. Every employee needs to feel they make a difference in the lives of our residents every day.”
Enhanced Memory Unit
Space has also filled quickly in the Acres, the memory-care unit, and Grenon said having it within the building allows people to “age in place,” giving them the option to move into it if they need extra help or support.
In fact, having assisted-living units and a memory neighborhood under one roof is ideal for some couples, he noted, explaining that one resident who lives in an assisted-living suite visits her husband every day in the Acres, where they stroll down the wide hallways within the secure neighborhood.
The thought that went into the design of the building can be seen in the layout of the shared rooms in the Acres. Although they were built for two people to live in, the only thing they actually share is the bathroom, which is situated between their private suites. Each person has their own door that opens into their living space, and shadowboxes are stationed outside that families fill with photos or mementos to help their loved ones easily recognize their personal entranceway.
Again, Grenon said families appreciate the attention to detail that is part of the program as much as the enhanced real estate.
“An example of this is that, when staff check on the residents every hour throughout the night, they have to enter each person’s bathroom and press a button to signal that they have actually been there,” he noted, explaining that the signals are recorded, which alleviates any anxiety as to whether the hourly checks actually occur.
The Acres also contains unusual ‘life stations,’ designed to promote activities that are familiar to residents. One contains a crib filled with baby dolls, a changing table with doll clothing, and a rocking chair. “Many of our residents are mothers, and when they see the dolls, they pick them up, change them, rock them, and even bring them to meals,” Grenon said.
Another life station contains a map and globe and was created to spark memories about places residents have visited, while a third has a collection of men’s and women’s hats, scarves, and jewelry they can don at a dressing table with a mirror.
“The life stations are part of our effort to keep them engaged and keep their brains stimulated. We don’t want people staying in their rooms,” Grenon said.
A special ‘quiet room’ was also built into the unit. It doesn’t have windows and is used by staff members as a place to bring residents who are agitated or suffering from the confusion that can occur when the sun sets. “They can turn on relaxing music and calm the person down in this quiet, secure place,” he explained.
Memory Care Director Brittany Sheehan says caretakers in the Acres are trained in how to deal with memory loss, and get to know each resident well. She added that the caregivers serve the residents’ meals and help them with daily tasks of living, such as dressing and showering, which allows them to build solid relationships through continuity and familiarity.
“It also helps them learn what each resident likes and dislikes,” Sheehan said. “But before they even move in, I have their families fill out a detailed, six-page questionnaire so we can provide personal touches they would have enjoyed at home. For example, a resident might like a cup of tea every night before going to bed. We do our best to customize our care to fit each individual’s needs.”
She runs a monthly support group for families and meets with them on a regular basis. “I call them if their loved one is having a bad day or a really good day. And every month I mail them ‘A Moment in Time,’” she said, explaining that it is a handwritten letter with pictures of their loved one engaged in activities.
Quality of Life
Grenon said Emeritus has quickly become a valuable community asset.
“Before it was built, many people were apprehensive because they didn’t know what to expect,” he explained. “But officials in East Longmeadow and people in the surrounding towns have been very supportive since we opened, as they appreciate what we have to offer.”
Noto agreed, and said the facility’s staff will continue to focus on improving small things that make a difference.
“Our residents have a voice, and we change things in response to their requests,” he said. “Everything we do is aimed at providing quality care, which is important because this is their home.”