Neponset Ave. nursing home looks to set new standard

The front lobby is ornately decorated, with Persian-style rugs underfoot and antique furniture lining up along gleaming wooden walls. A friendly receptionist sits behind a large mahogany desk, ready to answer any and all questions and requests. An aquarium bubbles away in the corner, its aquatic residents filling the room with flashes of color.

The Ritz-Carlton? Maybe the Hilton?

Not quite.

It is the Bostonian Nursing Care & Rehabilitation Center, a neighborhood fixture in Dorchester that is looking to change the public's perception of nursing homes and set a standard of care for other homes across the region.

Known as the Bostonian, this nursing home has been a part of Dorchester for decades.

There is no hospital feel, no dreary atmosphere, and no feelings of fear or loneliness that seem to pervade the average person's view of nursing homes. The residents seem alert and happy. The sound in the background isn't one of beeping medical equipment, but of the moans of the crowd from an episode of "Family Feud" playing on television.

Thomas Lynch is the administrator of the Bostonian, feels the perception of most nursing homes comes from a lack of knowledge, inexperience, and, in some cases, the media.

"[You] pick up the Globe or the Herald, the nursing home articles are negative," said Lynch. "The media likes to sensationalize and emphasize the negative. People are afraid to go into [nursing homes], they see them as places with gray walls."

"We try to call the people here 'elders', not patients," said Lynch. "Patients' sounds too much like a hospital."

The home serves a variety of different elders: some are extremely independent, but simply can't do a few necessary things on their own. Others are more incapacitated, and need frequent (and sometimes constant) care. Still others simply use the building's

Discharge Unit as a springboard, a place to recuperate from surgery and perform physical therapy until their recovery standards are satisfied, at which point they return home.

In fact, Lynch related a story saying that there was a woman who was a patient of the home who, at over 100 years old, had visited the Discharge Unit multiple times after various surgeries, only to quickly recover and return to her home.

On top of basic nursing and healthcare services, the Bostonian is a veritable self-sufficient health facility. It boasts on-site dental, optometry, audiology and podiatry services, as well as a full physical therapy center. On a more lifestyle level, a full service hairdresser and barber shop is available, a very popular feature for the ladies at the home.

The elders have taken a liking to a new technology as well, as they enjoy watching the flat panel televisions that sit on the walls of the common room, surfing the internet, or playing a "Deal or No Deal" video game on the television.

"They have taken to playing Wii," said Lynch, adding that the Nintendo game system also helps to keep the residents mobile and can aid in physical therapy in some cases.

One of the many things that makes the Bostonian unique is the family atmosphere promoted by the staff, from Lynch all the way down to the laundry crew. A sign on a staff wall lists the years of service put in by some members of the Bostonian's team, more than a dozen workers have enjoyed coming to work at the home for over 15 years.

"We have people who have been here for 31, 25, 21 years on staff," said Lynch. "That [family atmosphere] is what makes it special. [Having the same] workers there is going to make [patients] feel more comfortable."

Staff members at the Bostonian echoed Lynch's sentiments as well, further proving how tight-knit the group is.

Rose West is a physical therapist who spends her days working with patients in the Bostonian's basement level gym. Dumbbells sit on the racks, and resistance bands stand on the walls, ready to work the elders back into shape.

West has been at the Bostonian for seven years and knew she had found her ideal job after only a few weeks.

"Within a month of working here, I said I'd stay forever," said West. "I felt really comfortable. I know the residents who are here. The atmosphere is a lot more relaxing."

A point of pride for the Bostonian and its staff is the way they treat the elders entrusted to their care. They try to make them as comfortable and happy as possible. To many in healthcare, the entire field has become corporate and impersonal, something Lynch strives to avoid.

"It's not a factory," he said. "We're not making cars, we're not producing plastic. It's different everyday because we're dealing with people. It takes everyone moving in the same direction to make it special."

"A lot of people think a nursing home is where people come to die. In reality, some people still have a lot of life left," Lynch said.

One of those lively people is Edith, a 102-year-old woman who once lived in Montgomery, Alabama, and is still as sharp as a tack.

"I play Bingo three times a week," she said, adding that she wins "sometimes."

Edith's roommate, Cearlie, 94, said she "likes all of the animals," and often takes care of the cats and the birds at the home. She also has a variety of small plants growing on her windowsill, lapping up the early spring sun, and flourishing under her loving green thumb.

Even at her age, Cearlie still has ambition. One of the more prominent features of the Bostonian is the patio, which features bright, colorful flowers, something Cearlie wants to play a part in.

"I want to take up watering the flowers," she said with a smile, adding that she couldn't wait to get outside and enjoy the nice spring weather.