Health Care

Planned expansion at Miami Jewish Health Systems will cater to needs of dementia patients

Dr. Marc Agronin stands next to a model that shows the planned expansion of Miami Jewish Health Systems
Dr. Marc Agronin stands next to a model that shows the planned expansion of Miami Jewish Health Systems Miami Herald

In a tiny village in the Netherlands, all 152 of its residents are living with forms of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease.

The town, called Hogeway, is actually an experiment in end-of-life care largely funded by the Dutch government, with a secure entrance, cameras and caretakers to provide safety without the feel of a traditional nursing home.

Hogeway is also the model for a planned expansion of Miami Jewish Health Systems that will add a similar village to its campus in the next two to three years.

Geriatric psychiatrist Marc Agronin, who oversees behavioral health and clinical research at the healthcare facility, said he was influenced by newer models in long-term care that aim to make settings less institutional.

He hopes the project at Miami Jewish Health Systems, which largely focuses on elder care, will help “spread the word of how important it is to care for our elders regardless of the situation, and particularly when caring for elders with memory problems.”

The future arm of the sprawling grounds, dubbed the EmpathiCare village, will have a secure entrance to ensure the safety of its residents, like Hogewey. Inside, each living space will include kitchens and common areas to be “as home-like as possible,” Agronin said.

The memory loss that develops from dementia is a challenge for care when patients may become lost or confused easily and even require 24-hour supervision. The future village is designed to address those needs by giving residents the freedom to move around the compound on their own while engaging them through activities like a theater and arts and crafts center.

While a cure for Alzheimer’s disease is still far off, Agronin believes it’s important to consider quality of life issues.

“People get very pessimistic about Alzheimer’s because there’s not a cure,” Agronin said. “But we take the opposite approach and value people regardless of their condition.”

More than 450,000 people are living with Alzheimer’s disease in Florida, according to the Department of Elder Affairs. Across the United States, 5.4 million people have the disease.

The not-for-profit facility estimates the cost of the expansion will be $50 million and has not yet determined the costs of living in the facility for residents. It is also in the process of raising funds from donors.

“We’re looking at a lot of options to keep costs down without compromising patient care and the quality of the facility,” said Churé Gladwell, the hospital’s chief development officer.

About 60 percent of the nursing home residents at Miami Jewish are on currently on Medicaid. Residents of the new village — which is planned for between 66 and 99 inhabitants — will all pay privately.

But the plan for the EmpathiCare village will also lead to changes across the healthcare facility’s campus, Agronin said. Today, the hospital serves 12,000 people a year through services that include hospice care, an assisted living facility, a pain rehabilitation center and a memory center.

“It can’t just be about building a beautiful building but it has to also be about the care inside the building,” he said. “These are our grandparents.”

That’s why the entire campus at Miami Jewish Health Systems will be trained in the new caretaking model that the village will use, which will emphasize empathy in its staff.

As one part of this, workers across the hospital will receive experiential training to better understand what it’s like to be physically impaired starting in August, Agronin said. The full training program is still in development.

Miami Jewish Health Center is one of the largest healthcare providers for seniors in the Southeast United States. It first opened in 1940.