December 21, 2006
American-style retirement for Israel’s seniors
(Page 2 - Previous Page)It is hard not to be impressed by Ad 120 in Hod Hasharon -- especially by the seven-story glass-roofed lobby with greenery hanging from the balconies. Thoughtful design touches and careful finishes are everywhere, from the paintings and statues crafted by residents in all the public areas to the carpeting in the corridors and the apartments themselves.
"The whole concept of private senior citizens' residences came from the U.S. about 20 years ago," Ditch said. "Private entrepreneurs here started two or three companies. In the beginning it was very difficult because nobody knew what it was and what the customers wanted, or even who the customers were. We started 15 years ago and were one of the first. We had to make a market for the product, which took a few years. Today, it's thriving."
The Hod Hasharon complex, which opened six years ago, was the company's second home. It is constructing a third, even more luxurious, building in Ramat Hahayal, north of Tel Aviv. Ditch said they plan to build or to buy and renovate three more buildings within the next five years.
Ditch added that Ad 120 chooses sites for their proximity to shopping and entertainment centers rather than building on cheaper land far from activity centers; it is the only company with an assisted living division for those who need help if their health deteriorates but are not chronic nursing patients, and it is the only home that has an in-house doctor 24 hours a day.
"We have a very good name and we offer a very high standard of service. Private companies like us cannot afford not to give good service," he said.
In Herzliya, another sheltered housing building stands out. Beth Protea was set up by former South Africans in 1992 and is Israel's only English-speaking retirement home. Most residents are originally South Africans, but there are also some British and Americans.
"Ours is a real family home, small and intimate," said director Lynn Lochoff, a former social worker who has run Beth Protea for three years. "We pride ourselves on being a home away from home. The idea is that people can live out their advanced years in dignity. You don't feel that you are in a facility for the aged."
Walking around Beth Protea, one sees many residents in the public areas. Some are chatting in the lobby; others are in the library, taking advantage of large-print English books. An art class is full. Artwork and statues created by residents are everywhere, and coffee and cake is served in the afternoon. And here, lunch is included in the fees. Lochoff points out that the staff checks on residents if they do not come to the dining room for lunch.
Another feature is Beth Protea's outreach service, Beth Protea Plus, which opened this year and provides a free advisory service to the elderly on any issue.
"We were getting so many calls from South Africans, Americans, even Israelis, about all sorts of issues to do with the elderly that we decided to devote a full-time social worker to help people with their inquiries," Lochoff said.
In a quiet, green corner of Kfar Saba, Hamavri is an old-age home that has been in operation for 33 years. It is similar to Beth Protea in the standard of furnishings, but its status as a licensed old-age home means its emphasis is somewhat different. Director Riva Shtreifler has some harsh words to say about the sheltered housing concept. "We take care of every one of our residents," said Shtreifler, a qualified nurse who has run Hamavri for 15 years.
"We check on residents if they don't come to the dining room for a meal, and we pay attention to what each one eats. We certainly don't force anyone to eat, but we keep a careful watch on their intake. In sheltered housing, nobody knows whether a resident has eaten or not. Elderly people often can't be bothered buying food or cooking, or they forget to eat or don't feel well enough to eat. Our residents put on an average of five to 15 kg in their first year here because in their own homes they were starving themselves," she said. "Also, our residents who need regular medication are given it by a nurse. They can't forget to take their medicine or take too much of it by accident, as can happen at home or in sheltered housing."
Shtreifler is also disparaging of sheltered housing's emphasis on activities. Hamavri does offer some activities, such as Yiddish and English classes, music and crafts, but the range is clearly less than in sheltered housing, and there is no swimming pool. Many more people sit in the lobby, some sipping tea or coffee, some reading newspapers or doing crosswords, others simply lost in thought.
"Elderly people don't always want to be doing so many things," Shtreifler said. "Sometimes they just want to sit and think. They don't necessarily want to be rushing around all the time feeling they must do something."
Official figures back her up. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, some 91 percent of elderly people took prescription medications and 25 percent were hospitalized in the year before the survey. And 13 percent, or about 90,000 people, needed assistance with daily activities such as getting out of bed, dressing or washing.
Danhai, who has been running the Yad Lakashish free advisory service for the past five years and recently set up its Web site (www.yad-lakashish.co.il) chooses his words carefully.