Sholom Home East combines tradition and technology in St. Paul


Bessie is all dressed in blue. Her bright eyes sparkle as she sits with her daughter and her friends at the dining room table. The ladies are engaged in lively conversation and it is clear that they are enjoying each other’s company as much as their lunch of California burgers. The dining room is bright and cheerful, with warm wood-tones and lively colors. The atmosphere is so home-like that you almost forget that this is a nursing home.

Chapman Sholom Home East is part of the Sholom Community Alliance, which is celebrating 100 years of service this year. Located at the intersection of West Seventh Street and Otto Avenue in the new Victoria Park neighborhood of St. Paul, it is part of the Schaller Family Campus, which serves elders in several different settings, all located under one roof.

Residents moved here at the end of February from the former Sholom Home East on Midway Parkway, also in St. Paul. Brightly colored décor, cutting edge technology, and life-affirming care at the Schaller Family Campus blend with age-old traditions to carry out the Tree of Life theme of the Sholom Community Alliance.

Not only is the facility brand-new, so is the core concept of the care delivered to its residents. Barbara Ruppe is administrator of the Schaller Family Campus. She said,
“There’s a new wave for nursing homes to begin more person-centered care, making the nursing home seem as home-like as home.”

Ruppe said that the goal is to provide care to the total person, and said, “We don’t want to be just a clinical place…people need to live. We do not see them as ‘the hip fracture, or the open heart surgery,‘ but as individuals with wants and needs.”

Bessie made the move from the old Sholom, and said, “I’ll tell you something to write about. I’m proud of this every which way. They’re helpful, and they’re very kind.”

The physical space of the nursing home is made up of “neighborhoods.” In the neighborhood are four houses named after streets in St. Paul that are familiar to a good number of the residents – Hamline, Macalester, Summit, and Groveland.

Every house has ten bedrooms, each with its own bathroom and shower. Here residents have their own space that allows for privacy. Common areas include the living room with comfortable recliners and gliders and the dining room. The Great Room contains a counter that resembles a wet bar, yet closer inspection reveals a locked cabinet with a refrigerator for insulin and locked drawers for the other meds. This eliminates the need for the med carts going room to room.

Jackie loves to sit near the big windows while she has her morning coffee and read the newspaper. She said, “ Sometimes it feels like you’re outside because of the windows.”

Residents can help with baking in their kitchen, and they plan the shopping list for their snacks. For most main meals, food is prepared in a production kitchen, cooked with steam until it is almost done, then blast-chilled and brought to the freezer in each house. Residents then choose what they want for each meal, and it is heated in their oven until it is hot and ready to eat. The day that I was there, a volunteer was helping some of the residents make pizza for lunch in their own kitchen.

Real silver and china are used for meals–there are no institutional trays here. Other amenities include a fireplace and flat screen satellite TV with 32 channels, including ESPN. There is a children’s play area with a playhouse in each house, which allows for more frequent and extended family visits with grandchildren.

Each house includes two care specialists who are certified nursing assistants. They interact with the residents, much like family, and address the residents’ needs. Residents can get up early, or sleep as late as they want. Once they’re up, the care specialist may assist them getting dressed, but then might say, “Well, what should we do today?”

Since the care specialists are so tuned in to the residents and their needs they are the first “go to” for the families.

Staffing is at a 1:5 ratio, which Ruppe describes as “unheard of in the industry.” By comparison, the staffing ratio at the old Sholom Home was 1:10. Ruppe said, “We were able to absorb the cost of Care Specialist by eliminating trayline staff and by downsizing the nursing management staff.”

The “visiting nurse,” a registered nurse, has an office in the neighborhood that allows for monitoring the residents’ care. Residents can stop in to see the nurse, just as they would go to a doctor’s office out in the community. Every neighborhood also has a social worker, and a life enrichment coordinator to help plan activities, and a beauty shop.

Residents are beginning to develop community within the nursing home as they go back and forth from one neighborhood to another to visit. In fact, Ruppe said, “The community is tight. They all know each other.”

When warm weather arrives, residents will plant outdoor gardens. They will be able to pull up their wheelchairs alongside large pots where they can plant vegetables that they will later harvest, wash, and cook.

The day I toured the new facility I noticed that almost every resident I saw seemed to be smiling. Ruppe said, “There has been no relocation trauma, not one of the residents who made the move has had to be hospitalized, or has passed away.”

(Left to right) Jackie, Hazel, and Les work on a puzzle with Esayas, an aide.

She related the observation of one elderly man who said to her recently, “This is like a cruise, I hope this ship never comes to port. You can get what you want whenever you want from people you know.”

The Johnson Hospice Care Agency is part of the nursing home, and is designed to care for the families as well as the residents who are receiving end of life care. Here there are lounges and places for families to hang out together in privacy.

Population at the Chapman Sholom Homes East is 92, with 29 short-term residents, 60 in long term care, and 12 in hospice care. Half of the residents are Jewish, and half are not.

Two different types of apartments for elders are part of Schaller campus. The Bentson Assisted Living Apartments has 66 units. Eighteen of these are memory care with 24-hour assistance provided primarily by the Sholom Health Care Agency. For those who are not in the memory care apartments, the primary caregiver can purchase the services of the Sholom Home Health Care Agency “for as little as a half hour, to as much as 24 hours, ” said Ruppe. All of the assisted living apartments are private pay.

The Weinberg Apartments are 45 HUD-subsidized living units for seniors who can live independently. Some of its residents volunteer at Chapman Sholom.

The Roitenberg Adult Day Center is much like a senior center. Participants arrive by Metro Mobility, or are dropped off by their families. The center is licensed for 30 adults, but not everyone comes every day. Betty comes twice a week. She said, “We sit, we talk, we play bingo. I like the people I am with.” Her friend Bluma chimed in,“ We sing, we dance , we play.”

Betty was specially touched by the singing of a Jewish cantor at a Passover holiday concert. “I hadn’t heard these songs for years, since I heard them from my mother,” she said. “All the songs came back to me.”

The Aquatics and Vitality Center is state-of-the-art with a therapeutic pool where residents can take part in classes on arthritis or simply relax in the soothing water. Staff assesses every resident, and issues each of them their personalized SmartKey, which tells them their individualized routine on the machines and lets them know if they are going at a pace that is too fast or too slow. Residents come together to exercise, and one resident has even started to pair up with a staff member. Every day at 3 p.m. the 94-year-old Holocaust survivor meets up with an aide to exercise. They call themselves “exercise buddies.”

Everything in the facility is high tech and totally wireless. Residents are learning to play the Wii and use computers.

A Heritage Room documents the history of Sholom Home, which started as the Jewish Home on Wilkin Street in St. Paul, and later partnered with the Daughters of Abraham to become the old Sholom Home. Plans call for a kiosk to be installed where residents and their families can look up their family history. The Jewish Historical Society is assisting with this.

Ruppe, who started as a social worker at Sholom 23 years ago, said that the Alliance learned from experience after building other facilities in St. Louis Park. “Anything we’ve learned the past 20 years we’ve been able to perfect [in this facility],” she said. “This facility was made possible by the Jewish community of the Twin Cities area who contributed $40 million in cash to support this building.”

Mary Thoemke, a lifelong resident of Saint Paul, is a free lance writer for the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

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