It’s a fear we all have—living out our final years in a nursing home. It can conjure up images of elders living out their “golden years” in a sad, sterile, institutional environment.
Lois Gallo definitely had that fear.
At 79, she’s an avid writer, retired professor and psychotherapist with two Master’s degrees, five children, nineteen grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. She’s also living with Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a neuromuscular disease that has confined her to a wheelchair for the last 15 years. After years in an assisted living facility, her doctor told her she’d need to move to a nursing home – a thought that filled her with dread.
Little did she know how much her quality of life would actually improve in her new home.
“There’s more ways than I can mention,” says Gallo. “The freedom is a big thing that I think of is the freedom to just be, and do as much as my body and my life allows me to do.”
The Leonard Florence Center for Living (LFCL) just outside Boston is designed for residents like her with similar diseases like ALS and MS. Using their eye movements and computer technology, residents can perform simple tasks that the rest of us take for granted – things like turning on their lights, raising window shades, adjusting room temperatures, controlling TV’s, even driving their wheelchairs.
LFCL is part of a growing number of nursing care facilities of mixed populations operated by the Chelsea Jewish Foundation. The facility is made up of ten households, with two specialty houses for MS and ALS residents, who live with on-site “Shahbazim” – certified nursing assistants and caregivers.
“Everyone here is very special – the helpers, the staff, the administration,” says Gallo. Everyone is really extraordinary. The people who work here, the Shahbaz, they’re very special people.”
The Leonard Florence Center for Living is a far cry from a traditional nursing home. It is the nation’s first urban “Green House” model, designed to feel more like a real home, with an emphasis on natural elements like plants, natural light and outdoor green space – with no set routines.
“There are no schedules, no routines. It’s life as it should be,” says Barry Berman, CEO of Chelsea Jewish Foundation for the last 39 years. He’s seen first-hand how the facilities’ approach to care has improved the residents’ quality of life.
“What it really does – it just gives back so much independence and so much freedom that some of these individuals never ever thought that they would have again in their lifetime,” says Berman.
As a nonprofit, The Chelsea Jewish Foundation relies on philanthropy to fund its facilities. A recent $3.5 million anonymous donation helped fund a second home for ALS residents, and a commitment for $8 million more will go to funding a third home within the year.
Gallo has been at LFCL for three years and says, “I’m grateful for the life that I have and I wouldn’t have nearly the freedom that I have without the Leonard Florence Center.”
“It’s beyond words the emotions that we all feel. You have people that have come to us that have just given up hope,” Berman adds. “What they have found is there’s a community, and there’s camaraderie and there’s friendship, and they live their life.”
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