By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent
The future of elder care has officially arrived in Mercer County, and its name is Morris Hall Meadows.
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As a result of the vision of director and CEO Darlene Hanley, coupled with support of the Morris Hall / St. Lawrence, Inc., board of trustees, the expansion of Morris Hall Meadows on Franklin Corner Road, Lawrenceville, was celebrated Oct. 21 with an 11:30 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony and tours of the new buildings.
Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Mercer County and Lawrence Township officials, as well as other supporters of the Morris Hall Meadows project were present to witness the opening of two of the six buildings on the site.
"Whether it's through your time, your talent or your treasure," said Bishop O'Connell, "as Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, I want to say thank you very much, and to all of Mercer County, how lucky we are to have this place in Lawrence. God bless you all."
The Green House®
"Lawrence Township now has the distinction of having the first Green House® homes in central New Jersey," Hanley said to rousing applause.
The Green House® Project, conceptualized 15 years ago by geriatrician, Dr. Bill Thomas, was inspired by the words of an elder: "Doctor, I am so lonely."
Determined to create a better environment for the aged as nursing care became necessary, Thomas and his wife Judith Meyers-Thomas developed The Eden Alternative -- a principle-centered philosophy seeking to infuse growth and life into traditional nursing homes. Out of that philosophy was born The Green House® Project, which took the concept further, creating architecture that supports the new elder care philosophy.
"A massive shift toward the deinstitutionalization of older people is called for, and the foundation for such a shift is being laid now," said Thomas in his book, "What are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World."
"The Green House® Project philosophy of a meaningful life, empowered staff and a real home are at the core of the (Morris Hall Meadows) program," Hanley said.
The Lawrenceville-Pennington Road site for Morris Hall, originally staffed by the Sisters of St. Francis from its beginnings in the early 1900s to 1981, continues to serve the needs of aged in the Diocese with its two sections: the St. Mary's Assisted Living wing, and the St. Joseph Skilled Nursing Center. Not wanting to wait for the completion of the MHM campus to begin adopting Dr. Thomas's philosophy, Hanley had the foresight a few years ago to "begin integrating these core values into our daily practices in Morris Hall, now known as our legacy building. Our project guide Lisa Maxwell has assisted the team with embracing this culture change. We remain a CMS five-star facility and recently passed our departmental health survey with no deficiencies."
Susan Frazier Ryan, senior director of The Green House® Project, commended Hanley and her leadership team for their role in the Morris Hall Meadows venture.
"It's all about leadership -- leaders who are willing to push through the status quo, to believe that there is a better way and a different way to grow old in America. It's about leaders who say, 'we're going to defy the ancient stereotypes ... and we are going to grab hold of the very best for our elders, and it really fits your mission so well, because it's all about maximizing the quality of human life."
Ryan noted Pope Francis's attention to the poor and the frail during his U.S. visit in September, citing his example as inspiration for how our society must care for its elders.
"Pope Francis says that 'where the elderly are not valued, the youth will not flourish,'" Ryan said. "I want to challenge all of you here today to be that support; the physical architecture is just a part. It's the human architecture that will fill each of these rooms with love."
Through the Front Door
From the cushioned porch benches, to the glazed ceramic dinnerware, to the fireplace-centered family room, no detail in Morris Hall Meadows has been overlooked. Every aspect of the skilled nursing care home has been tailored to invite the senses, as well as to serve the physical and mental health care needs of its residents.
"The Department of Health is very supportive of this resident care model," Hanley said. "The houses are designed to be conducive to bringing a lot of light into the house, with access to the outdoors. Research shows there are fewer falls because the walking distance is reduced, (the residents experience) improved appetites, and less use of psychoactive medication."
Each of the six MHM homes includes 10 resident rooms, each with a private bathroom. Their schedules will be determined by them -- what they would like for meals, what types of activities they want to participate in, even whether their "shabaz" will wear uniforms or not.
"The Shahbazim -- very highly trained certified nursing assistants -- is a Persian word meaning 'falcon,'" Hanley explained. "Dr. Thomas chose that because the falcon is supposed to oversee and protect." Two shahbaz will be present in each house during the day, one at night, and are responsible for meal preparation, light housework, activities and patient medical care.
A large open kitchen allows aromas from meal preparation to fill the living and dining area. The central table of each home is set with attractive place settings, and families are invited to join the elder residents and staff at mealtimes.
"In the house a large center table is key to the concept of convivium," Hanley explained, "where everyone gathers around the table just like you would in a house, and enjoys socialization along with the food. That's been very successful in Morris Hall and will carry over into the Meadows."
Resident rooms, furnished like a bedroom in a traditional home, also contain amenities to assist the nursing staff -- including a floor-to-ceiling lift to help assist elders getting in and out of bed and to the bathroom. The central living area also includes a library, as well as a "spa" bathroom where residents may have their hair done or have assistance with bathing.
A back patio features outdoor seating, designed for elders to share barbecues with their families or to walk from building to building on a sidewalk.
"We will have it gated in, (to protect against) the wandering aspect," Hanley explained. "You don't have to go running after someone, they can walk out the door like they would in their home, they can sit on the patio, you can see them through the windows, and they're safe."
Morris Hall Meadows will open its first two houses to residents as early as December, once they have passed the department of health inspection and received certificates of occupancy. According to Hanley, the remaining four houses could be open by the end of the year.
As bishops of the Trenton Diocese have done before him, Bishop O'Connell heartily supports the work of Morris Hall as a member of the board of trustees. Retired priests of the Diocese are able to enjoy the comfort of the facility's Villa Vianney residence -- a private independent-living section of Morris Hall. The Diocese subsidizes Villa Vianney to make it more affordable for the priests in residence, according to Anthony Mingarino, diocesan chancellor.
"Four priests currently in the nursing facility (in the St. Joseph skilled nursing facility) will move into one of the six Morris Hall Meadows homes," Mingarino explained. The house will be reserved for priests only.
"It's wonderful," Mingarino said of the new MHM campus. "It's like a home -- but in addition to the niceties (of a house), they have skilled nursing care. It's beautiful."
Recalling his connection with the Morris Hall / St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center (SLRC) as a high school student volunteer, Bishop O'Connell offered his sincere congratulations and thanks to those who helped bring the project to fruition.
" Little did I know then that I would become a priest ... (and) Bishop of Trenton, where Morris Hall is located," he said. "It's a great place, and it means a lot to me personally."
The Bishop spent several months in SLRC following surgery to remove his lower left leg in December 2014; he commended the staff for their quality of care. "They did a marvelous job; I can almost do the salsa now!" he quipped. "They did great work, and I'm grateful for that."
"On a more personal note," the Bishop continued, "I entrusted my dear mother to the care of Morris Hall ... the care that they gave her was extraordinary."
And that combination of care and a comfortable environment are key to the design and function of the new Morris Hall Meadows homes.
"As it's been said, it's all about relationships," Bishop O'Connell said. "Our relationships of love and care for one another: that's what Jesus taught us, that's what Jesus asks of us, and that's what this place stands for."
For more information on Morris Hall Meadows or to schedule a private tour, call the admissions office, 609-896-0006, ext. 2278, or visit www.morrishall.org