By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Co-owners Micha Shalev and Ben Herlinger
Photo/Andy Weigl, Weigl Photography
Worcester – Under the leadership of Micha Shalev and his business partner Ben Herlinger, Dodge Park Rest Home has earned an impressive list of accolades over the years for its unique model of deeply compassionate Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Now, the two are proudly celebrating the opening of their new state-of-the-art facility, Oasis at Dodge Park.
Located at the site of the former Oddfellows Home in Worcester, directly across the street from Dodge Park, the Oasis facility is specifically designed around the needs of individuals with memory loss and cognitive disabilities. It is the only rest home in the region with a dementia care special unit, Shalev said.
The Alzheimer’s Program at the Oasis is designed to promote independence within a comfortable and safe “small household model,” while helping individuals maintain the optimum level of function and to maintain the highest quality of life possible.
Each household has its own dining area, living room (day room), and dedicated activity spaces that will support appropriate activities for people with different cognitive abilities. There is also a residential family-style kitchen in each household that is serviced by a fully equipped commercial style serving kitchen. This model provides a warm, homelike environment that enriches quality of life for older adults living with Alzheimer’s and memory disorders, Shalev said.
The recently completed Phase I will accommodate 50 residents while Phase II will accommodate another 32 when completed.
A Career in Elder Care
Shalev, who is originally from Israel, moved to Los Angeles, where he followed his original training as an electrical engineer. However, after being profoundly affected when several family members were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia, he decided to open a facility for those suffering from those diseases.
“I saw the need and really wanted to do something positive for the community,” he said.
The Shalev Family Home, Inc., which he ran with Herlinger for 20-plus years in California, became known for its quality care and pioneering philosophy of caring for those with cognitive disabilities, he said.
In 2007 the two decided to sell the business. Due to the fact that they had a non-compete, they could not open another facility in California. Shalev had always enjoyed the four New England seasons, plus he had family in Massachusetts, so it was an easy decision, he said, to move to Massachusetts. They soon purchased Dodge Park, which had been owned by two brothers for nearly 40 years.
“I really wanted to have the same focus that I had in California – to make Dodge Park ‘residence center care,’” he said.
One of the signatures of the Dodge Park/Oasis model is that each resident is carefully accessed at the time of intake and programs are tailored to their individual level of cognitive ability. Understanding that no program should be a “one size fits all,” residents are provided with access to continuous activity from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day to provide the maximum possible stimulation.
“We are flexible and accommodate the residents’ needs. All activity is multi-level and based on their cognitive level,” he said. “Low functioning residents have one-on-one accommodation while higher functioning can have more of an active group therapy.”
“The focus is to make sure residents wake up each day and anticipate the day,” he added.
A Reputation for Excellence
Dodge Park has been recognized as a “Caring Superstar” by caring.com, a designation that is based on consumer ratings and reviews posted on the website.
The five-star honor puts it in the top 1 percent of facilities (one of only 67 in the country) offering assisted living and memory care services nationwide, according to the website.
Most of Dodge Park’s residents learn of the facility through word-of-mouth referrals, Shalev said. Oftentimes a family member will become a resident as a result of a positive experience had by a relative or friend. In fact, one particular family has had a total of seven members from their extended family become residents at Dodge Park.
Shalev’s experience in the field does not stop at merely being an owner. He holds a master’s degree in healthcare administration and has become a certified dementia practitioner, as a way to always ensure that he is bringing the best care to his residents and their families.
Shalev is so passionate, in fact, that he authored a book on the subject entitled “A Practical Guide for Alzheimer’s & Dementia Caregivers.” A free copy of the book is given to each new admission. (The book is available for purchase on Amazon.)
Ongoing education and superior resident care are two important cornerstones of Shalev’s business philosophy.
“Our staff receives intensive training,” he said, “more than any other assisted living or nursing facilities in the region.” Although the state requirement is eight hours of dementia training, Oasis requires 20 hours. Nurses receive a full month of training at the facility while every other employee, from aides to maintenance, receives two weeks.
To ensure that there is no complacency toward the mission, the facilities hold monthly staff meetings that feature guest speakers in the field. They also provide their staff with ample opportunities to advance in the organization.
This model has allowed Dodge Park to have one of the area’s highest staff retentions, Shalev said.
Beyond the quality of the daily staff, residents also have access to specialists such as geriatric psychiatrists, podiatrists, and physical therapists as well as speech and occupational therapists.
Shalev and Herlinger don’t just demand excellent customer service from their staff, they model it themselves every day.
“We really want to provide our extended families a level of comfort and integrity of care,” said Shalev.
As such, he and Herlinger provide families with their personal cell phone numbers so they can be reached at any time.
Shalev knows that a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia can be devastating for family members. So, twice a month Dodge Park and the Oasis at Dodge Park host free support groups, which are open to the public and are run by two well-known social workers. The groups are hosted on the second Tuesday and third Wednesday of each month.
Shalev and Herlinger have invested themselves both personally and financially in providing a new level of personalized care for individuals and families dealing with the realities of cognitive disease. The recent ribbon cutting for Oasis at Dodge Park is a significant step forward in their journey to set a new standard in the Central Massachusetts region.