Catching up on the News – One of St. Mary’s Assisted Living residents enjoys the comfortable concierge lounge where gourmet coffee and reading materials are always on the menu. Photos by Regina Hoffman, Morris Hall Marketing/Admissions Coordinator 

Catching up on the News – One of St. Mary’s Assisted Living residents enjoys the comfortable concierge lounge where gourmet coffee and reading materials are always on the menu. Photos by Regina Hoffman, Morris Hall Marketing/Admissions Coordinator 

Assisted Living philosophy: Independence, dignity, choice

Rain was pelting the parking lot outside the campus of Morris Hall in Lawrenceville one recent weekday morning, but judging from the light streaming in through the wide, welcoming windows that line the hallways and apartments of St. Mary’s Assisted Living, it looked like a pretty bright day was underway.

As typical in assisted living facilities where residents have their own apartments, folks gathered with each other in the many indoor public spaces while visitors came and went.

In this case, a lot of activity was centered in the hallway outside the large chapel where dozens of residents – 95 percent of whom are Catholic – greeted each other on the way to morning Mass.

The comfortable lounges that are hallmarks of the assisted living concept were a focal point for  residents  preparing to embark on shopping excursions via the new, wheelchair accessible bus. A number of folks were in the “concierge” station, topping off their mornings with some premium coffee.

In another consistent feature of the assisted living concept, residents who are able, drive their own cars out to run errands. That morning, Louis Brence had all ready taken care of those daily chores in his car and was back getting his morning update from the newspapers in a cozy alcove on the second floor.

On the first floor, fellow reader Charles Burkhardt stopped by the recycling bin to deposit his reading material and struck up a conversation with old friends, Robert and Eileen Campbell.

All paused from their activities long enough to share their insights on what they like about assisted living.

All in their ‘80s, they pronounced themselves very satisfied with their choice.

 “You don’t worry about anything,” said Burkhardt, who opted to move into St. Mary’s two years ago from Manahawkin. He had taken up residence in the southern Ocean County town with his daughter five years previously after the death of his wife.

But Burkhardt, who grew up in and had been a life-long resident of South Trenton, had a yearning to return to his old stomping grounds. A devout Catholic and active in the community, he was very familiar with the Morris Hall Campus and the faith component it offers.

When he was looking for an assisted living residence, he did the research himself, came up from Manahawkin with his daughter to St. Mary’s and decided to settle in. “Everyone knows everyone here,” said Burkhardt who added that he liked the fact that the arrangement offered both privacy and the opportunity for companionship.

The Campbells, who came to St. Mary’s a year ago this February, agreed with Burkhardt and said that they liked the outings offered by the facility and the fact that the hallways are wide enough to accommodate the scooter the disabled Navy veteran uses to navigate the facility. “They do everything they can to make it comfortable,” said Robert Campbell, “and living here is a lot less work for Eileen,” he said, smiling at his wife of 66 years.

Brence, whose wife, Catherine, is in residence in St. Joseph’s Skilled Nursing Center on the campus, said he appreciates the place on the same levels. “I call the place well-organized. You always know what’s going on. It makes it easy to organize your time.”

“I appreciate the privacy, the friends you have here,” he said. Most of all, he appreciates the fact that it’s easy to visit his wife three times a day and take her to her doctor visits.

The sense of ease expressed by the Campbell’s, Burkhardt and Brence about their living arrangements goes straight to the heart of the assisted living mission, said Regina Hoffman, Morris Hall Marketing and Admissions Coordinator.

“It’s all about continuum of care at St. Mary’s Assisted Living,” said Hoffman of the 77-appartment community. “It is so important for people to know that everything they need is right here on one campus: the nursing home, rehab and assisted living.”

That’s been the focus since the facility opened in 1996, an early response to what would become a nationwide trend. “We were the first assisted living facility in Mercer County,” Hoffman said.

And demographics indicate it’s a trend that’s only going to grow. According to the National Investment Center Investment Guide 2010, there were 6,315 professionally managed assisted living communities nationwide with approximately 475,500 apartments.

On their website, the Assisted Living Federation of America notes that “while many of today’s baby boomers are primarily concerned with finding the right assisted living community for their aging parents,” an estimated 74 million boomers themselves will be the next generation of assisted living residents.

According to the ALF, ongoing innovations in technology and research will improve an “existing model” which currently includes: three meals a day in a common dining area; housekeeping; transportation; 24-hour security; exercise and wellness programs; social and recreational activities.

This living option is one which enables maturing adults to keep their sense of independence and above all, their dignity, said Hoffman and Salvatrice ‘Sal’ Angelico, resident services director for Rose Hill Assisted Living Community, Robbinsville.

It’s a model, Hoffman said, that allows families and their loved ones to relax.

Angelico says the concept as applied in Rose Hill, which opened in 2000, affords maturing adults the security of “knowing that if they are in distress, there is someone right outside the door to help them.”

But familiarizing people with the concept – which dates back only about 25 years according to ALF – can take some doing, she said.  Many seniors tend to think of any elder facility as a nursing home, she said. That perception changes once they become familiar with what assisted living has to offer – in this case, 72 private apartment suites, a spacious dining room, library, fitness center, decorated living rooms, activity and party areas and porches, day trips, special events and the like, she said.

Living in Rose Hill, she says, is rather like being on a lovely vacation or a cruise. “You have your meals, activities, all the privacy you want and the knowledge that help is there any time you need it.”