Vol. 11, No. 17 Sept. 10 - 23, 1998


Nursing Home Changes With Advances in Care

Nursing and Rehab Center Residents, Staff Mark 40 Years Of TLC on Perry Avenue


Some think that after Monica Lewinsky there are no taboos left in American society.

However, one problem still resolutely "in the closet," one that is very difficult for many Americans to think about or discuss, is the long-term care of the elderly who can no longer can take care of themselves. Older people with dementia or a stroke can become as dependent as (and even costlier than) small children. Few would volunteer for the challenge of round-the-clock nursing care and protection some elderly people need.

It takes a special breed, some of whom celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Mosholu Parkway Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on August 26.

"It was founded in April of 1958 by Mr. Alexander Hartman," said Leonie Stair, the center's director of operations, in a lilting Jamaican accent. Hartman still owns the facility on Perry Avenue just south of Gun Hill Road, as well as two sister nursing homes in Norwood -- the Bainbridge Nursing Home and Wayne Health Related Facility -- and one Eastchester care center.

After 40 years and multiple renovations, the Mosholu Parkway home provides short-term rehab for wounds and traumatic brain injuries, as well as physical, speech, and operational therapy. But its mainstay is its long-term residents, who use most of the center's 122 beds.

Mosholu's all-business director of nursing, Marie J. Gaspard, supervises what she called "quality, optimum care" for patients.

"The majority of long-term residents were long-time alcohol abusers," Gaspard said. "As the aging process comes, the prior abuse gives them a demented state."

Long-term care has come a long way since 1958, said Joseph Brachfeld, vice president of MEDCO, parent company of the Mosholu Parkway center.

"In the beginning you had five, six beds to a room! All lined up," Brachfeld said.

"But as the industry changed, we changed with it," he added, mentioning all the modest dignities which now are taken for granted -- bathroom doors and tubs accessible to wheelchairs, partial privacy, a decent diet.

The cost to house, feed, clothe, entertain, and medicate these hardly wealthy seniors is $200 a day. In New York City at large, according to Brachfeld, such costs are borne almost wholly by federal and state government, with Medicaid paying 85 percent and Medicare 10 percent, "with a few on private [insurance] plans."

"When they pay that $200, they get everything," he said. "If these people didn't have this support system, they would be dead."

On the day of the center's anniversary, sun streams through the windows and the residents can sense the day's specialness. Although all are free to watch television, only two are checking out "Jenny Jones."

Dressed in street clothes or robes and pajamas, they scuttle around on walkers or push their own wheelchairs. Some are lucid and chatty, others catatonic. And there are those whose delusions have made them irritable and paranoid.

Along with the 40th anniversary of the center, August marks the 100th birthday of resident Lillian Nickerson. One man, muttering to himself about the ways to make it to a hundred -- "What's the secret? No smoking! No sex!" -- pounds out a jaunty rendition of "Happy Birthday" on the piano, while employees and residents sing and clap along. Nickerson rests her eyes and smiles appreciatively.

The residents deal with complaints and requests through their own elected representatives. Bingo-loving Norwood native Frances Melchior, 80, has lived at the facility for six years, three of them as president of Residents' Council.

"I like it here," Melchior said, peering at her visitor through opaque protective glasses. "Some people are nice. Some people are rough." Melchior's husband of 55 years, Thomas, is retired from the post office and still lives in an apartment on Mosholu Parkway. He visits her frequently. "He's here today," she said, glancing around. "He's in a wheelchair too."

"Sometimes, an Italian man comes with a guitar," Melchior said. "He asks us what we'd like to sing." As for the eats, she said, "I'm satisfied. I can't have no greasy food. Dietary comes up and they replace it with something else."

From top -- where the entire sixth floor was recently refurbished for a more inviting activities area -- to bottom, Mosholu Parkway Nursing and Rehabilitation Center has stayed alive from the Eisenhower era to the Age of Monica by constantly reinventing itself.

"It's exciting to be 40 years old and still look like a young kid," Brachfeld said.

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