‘The pools are amazing!’

‘The pools are amazing!’

Jewish Home at Rockleigh’s expansion reshapes its long-term care facility and introduces cutting-edge programs to its new center

In 2015, the Jewish Home at Rockleigh began the strategic planning that will culminate in the opening of the Charles P. Berkowitz Center for Rehabilitation Excellence. That’s planned for January; before that, on November 11, a gala — carefully tailored for the still-not-quite-out-of-the-pandemic-world — will look backward, look forward, and celebrate. (See box.)

“One of the first things was that we did market research, and we looked at where we stood, where the competition stood, and what the future of the market will look like,” Carol Silver Elliott, the president and CEO of the Jewish Home Family, the Jewish Home’s parent organization, said. “We convened planning committees with representatives from all our various boards” — the Jewish Home Family is made up of four constituent organizations — “and we went through an extensive process. We studied future needs, and prioritized them.”

The results of that work were the discoveries that “number one on the list was expanding rehabilitation services and number two was transforming the long-term care environment.

“Those two go hand in hand for us.”

The building’s almost done now; it’s set to open in January.

That’s because the plans eventually called for a new building for short-term and outpatient rehabilitation services, which both will provide state-of-the-art rehabilitation and living space for short-termers and open up sorely needed space for residents in the old building.

Also, Ms. Elliott added, “we recognized that there is no premier subacute rehab center in the area we serve.” So “we started the process, working with an architect to define what we were going to do and how we were going to do it.” And not incidentally, “what the town was going to allow us to do.”

At the end of 2018, after the work and the planning and the negotiations and the concurrent fundraising — the campaign’s goal is $30 million, and it’s at $27 million so far, with major support from some of the biggest names in local Jewish philanthropy, the Kaplen Foundation, the Russ Berrie Foundation, the Taub Family Foundation, and the Elaine and Myron Adler Foundation — the Jewish Home at Rockleigh broke ground.

No one there — no one anywhere — had any idea what else was going to break. No one imagined a worldwide pandemic. Work slowed as the nursing home fought a ferocious battle against the virus.

From left, Jewish Home Family leaders Ary Freilich, Peter Martin, Carol Silver Elliott, Charles Berkowitz, JoAnne Hassan Perlman, Robert Peckar, Jon Furer, and Carol Silberstein are at the groundbreaking in September 2018.

But the needs of the elders — the dignified name given to its residents — did not diminish. Nor the did the needs of the clients the new center will serve, people there for in-patient or out-patient rehabilitation.

As the video about the fight that the Jewish Home fought against the virus makes clear, this is not a place that whitewashes the truth, even when it’s grim, nor is it a place that gives up. The staff had to face not only the virus itself, but the fear that it engendered, the isolation that it demanded, and the difficulties both those conditions imposed. Two hundreds forty-four people, patients and staff, got covid; at one point “we had more than 100 staff members who were sick. All at the same time.” They all recovered. Ninety percent of everyone in the building who got covid recovered but 10 percent did not.

But the staff understood that the virus was going to change the lives not only of the people who survived it but those who had the courage and goodness to fight it. They saw the importance of hope, of community, and of simple pleasures like music and dancing and food. (Ice cream helped. Ice cream almost always helps.) They applauded everyone who emerged, recovered, from the covid unit, and that applause was strengthening.

And as it turned out, once the worse of the pandemic was over, there were a few advantages to its persistence. Work on the center began; because no visitors were allowed into the home — a grievous loss for both residents and their families and friends — there were no issues with parking.

Scenes from the Jewish Home as the covid crisis started to loosen its grip, and life started gingerly to resume.

And far more than that, the construction gave hope to the battered veterans of Rockleigh’s struggle against covid. The world continues, and the home’s cutting-edge approach to helping both its elders and rehab patients will continue.

The Jewish Home Family owns many acres of land; as it turns out, though, it’s not all suitable for building. The new Berkowitz Center was envisioned as a sprawling, one-story facility, but because the land had been a horse farm, not all of the ground can support such a heavy building. Instead, it’s been made two stories; that change to its structure has not changed its function at all.

The new building will house about 60 people, there for short-term rehab; they’ll live in pods of 15 people each, and simple arithmetic points out that therefore there are four pods. Two are each floor, two on each of the two wings.

The patient rooms center around a central space; each one, designed for one occupant, includes a clever, swinging, locked cabinet that can store each resident’s medications for maximal convenience in the minimal space possible. There are special rooms for bariatric patients with all the fittings discreetly upsized. All the rooms, public and private, are full of light, admitted by big windows.

There are all sorts of spaces for all kinds of therapies, including a kitchen set up to reteach cooking skills that can be a vital part of rehabilitation. There’s a garden in a courtyard with a walkway; each section of the walkway is made of different materials, with different textures — rubbery, plain cement, decoratively cobbled — so that patients can relearn how to walk or maneuver a wheelchair on them. There also are indoor walking tracks, and places to sit outside, feel the wind, and see the beauty.

The technology is installed with an eye on climate change; there are solar energy panels on the roof, and charging stations for electric cars.

There will be an ambulance entrance in the Berkowitz Center, which will allow patients to enter the facility with privacy and dignity; now, they have to be wheeled in through the main entrance, with everyone watching.

And the pièce de absolute résistance is the saltwater pool, part of the aquatics center. It provides a gravity-free buoyance that feels like freedom to everyone, and particularly to people whose bodies rarely let them feel free. It’s heated, so it feels even more wonderful. And it’s accessible to people in wheelchairs and on walkers; meanwhile, underwater cameras record patients’ movements, which lets their therapists tailor their programs.

“The complex has three pools,” Ms. Elliott said. The saltwater one, which ranges from three feet six inches to four feet six inches deep, can be used for group as well as individual therapy. The other two pools, which will hold heated fresh water, “have lots of different tools, including treadmills.

“The benefit of warm water exercise for people who have joint or mobility issues is tremendous. And we also have a big program for Parkinson’s patients, and for patients who are post-stroke.

“It can give you a real workout but without any feeling of struggle. So it loosens you.”

When rehab patients see the pools, “they just light up,” she said.

Carol Silver Elliott speaks at the groundbreaking in September 2018.

Meanwhile, back in the old building, the living areas for long-term residents will be reconfigured so that people will live in small groups; they will not have to venture down long impersonal hallways. Instead, they will have more of an opportunity to develop relationships with the other people in their groups; friendships give joy, and joy is healing.

Perhaps entirely coincidentally, Ms. Elliott said, those small groups — they’re called greenhouses — proved to be useful in fighting the virus. “Research shows that greenhouse homes did better during the pandemic, because they are smaller and self-contained,” she said.

Although the plans for the Berkowitz Center and reshaping the old building already were pretty firmly in place, the pandemic gave the Jewish Home leaders some ideas. They built some rooms with negative pressure; those rooms, which do not expel air into the halls that surround them, help control infectious agents, as covid-fighters learned.

Fighting the virus inside the Jewish Home at Rockleigh as the Berkowitz Center rose outside its windows was surreal, Ms. Elliott said. While residents and staffers were falling ill inside the building, and while the virus was being fought with PPE – gowns and masks and gloves — and isolation, where people couldn’t see each others’ faces, “while there was all this tumult in the building, outside there were people, construction workers, moving dirt, using these big machines. They were working seven days a week. I remember looking out of the window and I was so struck by how everything inside was upside-down, and everything outside was business as usual.

The not-quite-finished warm salt water therapy pool will help rehab patients defy gravity and feel freedom.

“It was a very surreal experience.”

Maggie Kaplen of Tenafly has been deeply involved in many parts of the Jewish Home Family for many years. Now, she said, she’s on the boards of the Jewish Home Family and the Jewish Home Foundation, she’s on the advisory board of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, where she’s also a past president, and she’s the president of Jewish Home Assisted Living in River Vale.

She’s impressed by the new building. “It’s a fantastic facility, and a marvelous addition to all the other services that we provide,” she said; she’s also glad that the new building will provide enough room at the old building to allow for the greenhouse restructuring.

“I think that our community absoluty needs this,” she said. “And the fact that it is dedicated and named for Chuck Berkowitz is perfect, because of his history with the Jewish Home, starting in Jersey City, and because of the 45 years that he’s been involved, and gotten us to the point where we were seven or so years ago, when he retired.”

“This honor is very well deserved.”

A staff member rolls a recovered covid patient back into the post-covid world.

Carol Silberstein of Tenafly is the immediate past president of the Jewish Home Family and on the board of the Jewish Home at Home and the Jewish Home Foundation of North Jersey.

She’s also enthusiastic about the new building, and the new plans for the old one.

“The rehab center is totally state of the art,” she said. “It will change the rehab treatment model in this area. And it allows us to expand our base. We won’t treat only our patients, but we’ll also be open to the community.

“We’ve always had a world-class staff. Now, we’ll have a world-class facility as well. Now we’ve combined the best things.”

Oh, and the pools? “They’re really amazing,” Ms. Silberstein said.

Who: The leaders of the Jewish Home Family

What: Introduce the new Charles Berkowitz Center for Rehabilitation Excellence

How: At an outdoor, covid-era rules-compliant gala evening

When: On Sunday, November 7, at 5 p.m.

Where: In a tent on the grounds of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, at 10 Link Drive

What else: The evening will include a cocktail reception and a tour of the new building

How much: $300 per person; $200 per person if you’re a first-time guest

To learn more and register: Call (201) 750-4231 or email mcohen@jewishhomefamily.org

And also: You must show proof of vaccination to go to the gala.

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