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It’s all in the ‘family’ at senior home

Residence offers seniors with special needs upscale living

Posted: October 11, 2009 7:35 p.m.
Updated: October 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Resident Joyce Whiteside, seated, receives care from Chavira, center, and Kimberly Nunley.

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It was just about lunchtime when the impromptu dance broke out.

“Come on, Fay, cha cha cha,” Jay Valenzuela said to his partner, pulling her up from the chair.

Fay Dicker, 86, grinned from ear to ear as she was spun around the living room by Valenzula.
 
Dicker’s roommate and friend Esther Bobrow, 90, clapped along, even though there was no music.

“We’re like family here. We have fun together,” Valenzuela said.

Opened in January 2008, Mameleh and Tatleh’s Upscale Senior Living in Canyon Country offers seniors with mild to severe Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other cognitive disabilities a cheerful place to call home.

The home, located in a newer, nicely groomed tract, has room for six residents; currently five female seniors live within the well-appointed walls. Plush furniture, an immense flat-screen TV, stylish tile and carpet in muted tones, and a backyard barbecue area are just a few of the amenities offered.

Head caregiver Valenzuela and caregiver Rachel Chavira provide the family touch.

As Valenzuela and Dicker waltz, Chavira styles the hair of Joanna Whiteside, 78, while fitness instructor Kimberly Nunley gently exercises Whiteside’s legs.

Chavira, who went to cosmetology school prior to working in health care, does all the residents’ hair and nails on a regular basis.

“They love that,” she said. “It’s healthy for them. It helps them feel youthful.”

Administrator Joanna Rem opened Mameleh’s Patleh’s when she couldn’t find the right place for her aging grandfather. 

“We are a Jewish home, though we have other religions here. We’re not Kosher or super religious, it’s more about celebrating the traditions,” Rem said.

That’s important to residents such as Esther Bobrow, 90, who’s earned the moniker “Esther New York,” not just because of her distinct accent and brusque, no-nonsense demeanor, but to differentiate her from the other Esther in the house.

Bobrow used to regularly attend synagogue with her father and her granddaughter, who is currently serving on a mission in Israel. Bobrow moved to Mameleh and Tatleh’s from San Diego after her husband passed away.

“It’s very nice to be able to continue our traditions here,” Bobrow said.

The residents recently celebrated Yom Kippur and light a candle every Friday night for the Sabbath.

Dicker, who was born in Poland and became an American citizen as a child when her family immigrated to the United States, speaks Hebrew and considers her faith very important. She moved to the home after becoming widowed.

“We have certain ways of eating and there’s a real happiness that comes along with celebrating the holidays,” she said.

Not to say things aren’t festive the rest of the time. There’s a slot machine in the living room, regular bingo games, and almost daily karaoke. Dicker and Valenzuela prefer to belt out Frank Sinatra tunes “My ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ is a showstopper,” Valenzuela said, laughing.

The less flamboyant Chavira is known for her LeAnn Rimes.

“She’s can really sing,” Dicker said of Chavira.

Daily routines are individual. Some residents like to get up early, while others like to sleep in. The kitchen is stocked with a diverse array of food, including homemade goodies like banana bread, and for variety, the staff will often barbecue.

Outings to local restaurants and day trips to places such as Ojai are also available for residents who feel up for a little adventure.

“We get dressed up and when we get in the car, I tell them, ‘We’re gonna go cruising,’” Rem said. “I consider the residents like my girlfriends. I want them to enjoy their last few years of life as much as possible.”

Family visits occur frequently, according to Rem, and some relatives go the extra mile to help all the residents, such as Marvin Metcalf, son of Whiteside, who recently installed sprinklers and fire extinguishers at the home. Metcalf has also converted part of the garage into a caregiver’s room and fixed the home’s heating system.

“He’s just been a savior,” Rem said. “His mom was just as wonderful, she’s done a lot in this community, and now her son comes to the rescue. They are an amazing family.”

The cost of all-inclusive residency at Mameleh and Tatleh’s Upscale Senior Living is currently $4,900 a month. The home does not accept insurance directly; Rem stated that some relatives of residents submit claims through private insurance for possible reimbursement.

According to Rem, the home has an on-site certified nursing assistant, as well as immediate access to a nurse when necessary. Caregivers such as Valenzuela and Chavira must have many years experience in order to be hired and possess additional, yet just as important traits.

“They have to have patience, a big heart, and a lot of love for seniors,” Rem said.

Valenzuela, who has worked at Mameleh and Tatleh’s for almost two years, certainly fits that description. 

“This job is so rewarding. It’s really changed me emotionally. Every day the residents grow nearer to my heart,” he said. “They’re all like my mom or grandma to me. That’s why I call them all mama.”

Bobrow, the joker of the house, was quick with a snappy comeback.

“I think you call everyone mama because you forget our names,” she quipped.

For more information on Mameleh and Tatleh’s Upscale Senior Living, call Joanna Rem at (818) 916-8978.

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