Assisted-living site for dementia residents set to open in Squirrel Hill

Residents with some level of dementia exist in most long-term care facilities, including both the nursing home and personal care home of the Jewish Association on Aging, but the agency is preparing specialized care for them in a new setting.

The Squirrel Hill-based agency held an open house Thursday afternoon to show off its new AHAVA Memory Care Residence, which is awaiting state licensing as an assisted-living center. JAA officials expect to begin admitting residents this month to the facility, part of a $6 million project that has redesigned the ground floor of the Charles M. Morris Nursing & Rehabilitation Center along Browns Hill Road.

The assisted living category is relatively rare in Pennsylvania, as a sort of intermediate level between personal care and skilled nursing care. Unlike personal care, it is designed to provide sufficient medical help for people to remain in the same place that has become their home as an illness progresses and becomes terminal. Assisted living is typically more home-like than nursing facilities, and unlike them it relies on people’s own ability to pay — more than $6,000 monthly for the AHAVA residence — rather than government funds from Medicaid or Medicare.

Amy Dukes, the JAA’s memory care liaison, noted that there is no other assisted-living facility in Allegheny County specifically designed for residents with dementia. The only other in southwestern Pennsylvania is the RoseCrest Assisted Living Residence in Mars, operated by Lutheran SeniorLife.

The 30-bed AHAVA residence (”ahava” is the Hebrew word for love) is being constructed in two phases, with space initially for 16 individuals and rooms for 14 more to be completed next year. Aside from its assisted-living status, the facility differs from most dementia units in using design consulting and staff training from the Boston-based Hearthstone Institute.

The Hearthstone philosophy focuses on having the staff understand and meet the needs and interests of individuals with dementia, while avoiding medications designed to control their behavior, Ms. Dukes explained. The philosophy has been incorporated into the JAA’s other dementia care settings, she said, but the AHAVA residence has been specifically designed with useful features such as multiple activities areas, ample sunlight, safely enclosed outdoor courtyards and an open-ended internal walkway that won’t frustrate frequent strollers.

With the Hearthstone approach, Ms. Dukes said, “we get to know the residents and their interests and engage them in a way that is individual to them.  Even with their levels of cognitive decline, we can still engage residents well into stages of the disease with art, whether that’s music or visual arts or theater.”

She said 11 of the initial 16 beds have been reserved thus far. Further AHAVA information may be obtained at or by calling 412-205-6556.

Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.


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