JAA to open new memory care facility

JAA to open new memory care facility

The JAA board of directors and Dr. John Zeisel ceremonially break ground on the new memory care building.	

Photo by Sandy Riemer
The JAA board of directors and Dr. John Zeisel ceremonially break ground on the new memory care building. Photo by Sandy Riemer

Before donning hardhats and hoisting shovels — requisite tools for a groundbreaking photo — representatives of the Jewish Association on Aging explained the groundbreaking nature of their new institution.

The AHAVA Memory Care Residence at the Jewish Association on Aging’s New Memory Care Center of Excellence “is a first for the city of Pittsburgh,” said Deborah Winn-Horvitz, JAA’s president and CEO.

Upon its scheduled opening in the summer of 2017, AHAVA will become Pennsylvania’s only Hearthstone-certified Memory Care Center of Excellence, she pointed out.

That designation reflects the direct influence of Dr. John Zeisel, the Ivy League-trained president and co-founder of Hearthstone Alzheimer Care, Ltd.

Zeisel, whose background is in sociology and architecture, is an internationally regarded expert on memory care who focuses on new development, design, teamwork and research.

So often memory loss is plagued by a “despair narrative,” Zeisel told the more than 100 attendees at Weinberg Village. “My approach is based on hope. Each of us here can make a positive difference by staying engaged.

“By treating people with dignity, listening, asking them what choices would you like,” he continued, “we can make a difference for people of all cognitive needs.”

AHAVA will reflect Zeisel’s approach both in its design and its resident practice, said Winn-Horvitz.

To demonstrate this commitment, the executive director shared a virtual tour of AHAVA with those gathered.

As the digitally rendered design showcased neat spaces, the signature features of the new facility were a warm and glowing hearth, a common room allowing natural light and personal areas permitting resident reflection and relaxation. With its 30 resident rooms, AHAVA will be an extension of the current building at Weinberg Village but maintain a separate entrance, said Winn-Horvitz.

The environment will support people in “physical and social ways,” said Zeisel.

Ultimately AHAVA will be more than “just a beautiful facility,” noted Winn-Horvitz. “When we designed this facility we began with, ‘What does a day in the life look like?’ and, ‘What do we need to build around the individual?’”

After answering those questions, “every square inch” of the building was designed for the residents and “not for us or visitors,” she added.

AHAVA’s real beauty though is not just the facility, but what transpires within it, Winn-Horvitz explained.

We are creating “a community of caring,” added Zeisel.

For example, at each meal residents will be offered a choice of what to eat. “Even if every day for a year that person wanted tuna,” the choice will still be offered, explained Zeisel, “because offering choice is a profound and dignified way to treat people.”

This and other nonpharmacological approaches, including speaking at eye-level, offering invitations and making residents feel welcome, are evidentiary-based and successfully eliminate the anxiety, apathy, agitation and aggression exhibited by residents, said the Hearthstone president.   

“We’ve already made these changes in our existing memory care units and it’s made a world of difference,” noted Martha Martel, director of Memory Care Programming at JAA and executive director of the Residence at Weinberg Village.

“I always want to get where [the patients] are at,” said Ron Harris, a JAA employee. After the recommendations were made for patient care, “I took it and ran with it. I welcomed it with open arms.”

These changes have been transformational for patient-staff interactions, said Harris, who noted that because of the implementations, “I began knowing [residents] and what their likes were. It gave everybody a voice who didn’t have a voice.”

Including AHAVA, the JAA is currently investing $7 million in memory care onsite, said Winn-Horvitz. Of that sum, $3 million is dedicated to the construction of AHAVA. Other funds are being used within the present facility, on training for the JAA’s nearly 500 staff members and on new hires.

To date, the JAA has raised between “$3.5 million and $4 million,” from private donors and community foundations, she said. “We’re at the beginning stages of fundraising. This is the first step in a capital campaign.”

“It’s a momentous occasion for the JAA,” said Mitchell Pakler, JAA board chair. “Despite the gloomy weather outside, it is truly a beautiful day in our neighborhood.”

Adam Reinherz can be reached at adamr@thejewishchronicle.net.