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Renovation cooks up new atmosphere at Chelsea Jewish Nursing Home

Journal Correspondent

Residents Ruth Finkelstein and Nina Ardell dine at the renovated Chelsea Jewish Nursing Home. Photo by DiMella Shaffter Architects

JUNE 15, 2017 – CHELSEA — A $16 million renovation that is all about improving the quality of life for Chelsea Jewish Nursing Home residents will be unveiled during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 21 at the near century-old site on Lafayette Avenue.

In 1919, Eleanor “Lena” Goldberg established the home to care for her elderly neighbors. The renovation of the five-story building, the flagship property of Chelsea Jewish Lifecare, includes spacious gathering spaces, fireplaced living rooms, a new café, rehab gym, chapel, and courtyard for the 123 residents.

But the boasting rights of the update go to the six new kitchens – two on every residential floor – that allow residents to eat in small, family-like dining rooms. In addition, CJL purchased a house next door, which was demolished and turned into a parking lot.

Having residents share home-style meals in smaller dining rooms was the key ingredient to updating the facility, according to Adam Berman, president of CJL.

Berman said the model is less wasteful than the centralized system, but more significantly, the aroma of food being prepared on every floor nourishes the soul.

“It creates a feeling of heimishness,” Berman said, using the Yiddish word that means cozy or homey.

The new arrangement is also fostering a greater sense of community. The dining rooms are designed for no more than 20 people.

“Once you get to 30 or even 40, it becomes institutional,” Berman said.

In the first weeks since the new kitchens have opened, Berman and other staff already have noticed a difference. Often, nursing home residents prefer to eat in their rooms, Berman has observed. The new atmosphere is changing that norm in a positive way. “People do come out of their rooms,” he said.

“We are starting to see relationships develop that didn’t exist before,” said Berman, the 32-year-old son of Barry Berman, the longtime CEO of Chelsea Jewish Lifecare, who first began working at the Chelsea Jewish Nursing home in his early 20s.

Tony DiGregorio enjoys the fact that the home, open to residents of all backgrounds, continues many Jewish traditions. While his family is Catholic, he looks forward to visiting his 90-year-old mother Angelina on Friday evenings, when the aroma of roast chicken permeates the air.

His mother, who’s been at the nursing home for five years, is in good health, though she needs a wheelchair and has some memory loss, he said.

The retired educator and school principal had high praise for the care his mother receives, including a personal rapport with staff.

The renovation has caused very little disruption, he observed, and he anticipates that the smaller dining rooms will be an advantage. He most welcomes the addition of the parking lot, a big improvement from having to search for street parking before the renovation.

“The investment in this building is something the city is happy with,” said Chelsea City Manager Thomas G. Ambrosino. “We think it will improve the services it can provide its residents and we are thrilled with its work.”

Adam Berman and his father anticipate that the renovated home will spark interest from other senior care facilities.

“We believe this model of care has the potential to change the face of nursing homes throughout the country,” Barry Berman said in a statement. “The home environment can easily be replicated by other skilled nursing facilities, vastly improving the quality of life for our nation’s elders.”

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