Jewish Home wing gives elders brighter view of world

Rose Deutcher, 95, one of the first residents of the Jewish Home for the Aged to move into the new wing, is thrilled with her new surroundings.

"I love it," she said, sitting in her sun-filled room, pictures of roses hanging behind her. "I don't know why I was chosen to move here, but I feel privileged that they allowed me into this lovely place."

Like Deutcher, most of the elderly residents of the San Francisco home find it a tremendous effort to get outside. That's why the new 120-bed, $22 million Howard Friedman Pavilion was designed specifically to bring the outside in.

This January, after years of planning and fund-raising and 18 months of construction, the architectural design concept became a reality. Now, 80 residents are occupying the state-of-the art facility, which was financed entirely by donations.

"We really feel this is the future of geriatric care," said the home's executive director, Sandra Epstein. "For the first time, we are able to provide our elderly with an environment that will allow them to experience sunshine, light, clouds, trees, greenery, things we take for granted."

By moving its clients into the new pavilion, the Jewish Home was able to accommodate many of the elderly people on its waiting list, which usually hovers at around 100. The home, which formerly accommodated about 380 seniors, can now house about 460, with 40 additional rooms in the new wing slated to be filled in the next six months.

As the population ages, however, the list of Jewish seniors in need of housing continues to grow. And according to Epstein, seniors who come to the home are sicker, older and in need of more services than ever before.

Because of improving medical care and in-home services, many "can stay in their own homes longer now," she said, so that by the time seniors move into the Jewish Home, they are in need of more intensive care than in years past.

The wing was designed to meet the needs of these so-called "acute" patients, requiring moderate to highly skilled nursing care. The challenge for Los Angeles architects Rochlin, Baran, & Balbona was to mesh utility with beauty. The residents and staff of the home say the architects succeeded.

Large domed skylights that allow sun, clouds or even fog to be a part of the interior landscape distinguish this pavilion from the old-style, sterile nursing-home environments. Each of three identical, hexagonal 40-bed "pods" is capped by a glass roof that reveals the sky.

Each room has a large bay window looking out onto the city, and a door that opens onto the center of the pod, where a single tree grows up toward the third floor. In each area, a round library room encased in windows gives residents a place to watch movies, play piano, listen to music or read.

Lately, Ann Fenyo has been using the sitting room to listen to opera. The 87-year-old says she loves living on the new wing, because "everything is so new."

If residents like Fenyo can be uplifted by bright surroundings, then Jewish home president Stuart Seiler says the project was worth every penny. Among top donors were the Koret Foundation and Phyllis Koshland Friedman, the widow of Howard Friedman, who helped design the original facility.

For Seiler, creating the new wing was a matter of building dignity. "It's of utmost importance to give people first-class surroundings with the highest level of care," he said.

"Honor thy father and mother, that's what the Jewish Home is all about. With our facility and our budget, that's what we tried to do."