NORTH BRUNSWICK – For Jeanne Selby, Graceland Gardens’ vision to create a “better” place for the aging population has been a longtime coming.
The fruits of her labor are being realized as Graceland Gardens is set to celebrate its Grand Opening on Oct. 5 with North Brunswick Mayor Francis Womack and others who have helped pave the way.
The vision came with “a lot of work and patience” including a setback due to the coronavirus pandemic. It also took a “tremendous amount of assets” to accomplish, she said.
As a previous director of a senior facility and years of experience on the state level, Selby said seeing people she called her friends, who “had the capacity to continue a long life” essentially “deteriorate when they were put into senior institutionalized facilities” was the impetus of her vision.
“It got into my head, I was going to do something,” she said.
And “do something” Selby did, with perseverance to move forward.
“I want this building to be a role [model] for others to follow … that gold standard,” she said.
Selby serves as Executive Director of Graceland Gardens, which – when it officially opens – will be the only licensed assisted living facility in North Brunswick. The facility was built with the approval of the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) as a new concept in assisted living.
The ranch style building – essentially a large mansion – consists of 23 units and 27 beds. This residence of one and two resident suites was built with the idea of giving elders and their families a true home environment, Selby said.
As for the location, Graceland Gardens could have been built anywhere in the state.
“It really was a fluke to be honest [of the location in North Brunswick],” she said. “The facility could have been [built] really anywhere, but when you go for zoning in New Jersey, you have to be able to petition what type of zoning you want. This building was originally zoned for single-family residential versus what we have. We look like a house; a giant mansion is what we are.”
Instead of having six homes built on site with children and cars and everything else, “this facility is housing elders who have limited access to driving their cars,” she said.
The facility has received its certificate of occupancy from the township and is awaiting approval for licensing from the state.
“We will be licensed as assisted living,” Selby said. “We are able to provide medical care for residents, as well as any health care needs with emphasis on rations well below guidelines to provide more quality care.”
Statistically, when people get to the age of 85, almost half will have a little bit of a dementia issue, and the other half doesn’t, Selby said.
The new concept of assisted living in North Brunswick is for “the other half.”
“This is for residents in our community that know they need help, they have medical issues that need to be addressed consistently, but they still have the ability to be able to enjoy,” Selby said.
“We will be having a lot of activities here as well as getting on the bus and going places and hopefully by next year we will be able to do a cruise with our residents to go out of New York City or Bayonne [Hudson County],” she said.
“This is for them to be able to enjoy some of the highlights of life. A lot of people don’t go on trips or do much because they may not have the resources of family or friends to get them there and/or they are afraid.
“Society has really changed; families don’t live near each other anymore. And when you get to a certain age, you really wish that your family was closer, and a lot of times people’s friends have passed, and it can be very lonely,” Selby said.
Graceland Gardens will take advantage of the many activities in the area including shows at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, the symphony at Rutgers University or to the beaches of the Jersey Shore.
Another difference of the new concept: Graceland Gardens is a private facility.
“It is the vision to be able to ensure that we are all family,” Selby said. “And everyone, no matter what culture, are all going to be respectful of one another.”
Also, the concept facility will allow people to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. Each suite has its own outside patio. There is a button residents can press if anything were to happen outside alerting the nurse’s station, she said.
“We learned our lessons especially since COVID, it’s really important that you get outside and to get sun on you,” Selby said.
As a private smaller facility, there is no time clock and destinations are not too “many steps” from one destination to another. Residents will get the care they need in “their home.”
“Residents that live here have the ability to do their own temperature control in their suites, which is all part of the base fee,” Selby said. “They will have 350-plus stations from Optimum cable to choose from and also free internet. All meals and in house activities are part of it.”
Amenities also include access to laundry, an in-house beauty salon, activity rooms and concierge services available to assist with doctor visits and travel needs.
On staff are two professional chefs and a director of nursing.
Kristina Massari, a registered nurse, comes to Graceland Gardens as an Intensive Care nurse. She will serve as Director of Nursing.
“When I walked in, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do long-term care,” she said.
Graceland Gardens gives a different approach to long-term care.
“It takes a lot of experience to provide something entirely brand new,” she said, noting she has been a critical care nurse for 20 years. “I think the vision here is to be able to do something different to change the industry, and I’m so excited to be part of that.
“Coming from an acute care background, I feel like it gives me an entirely different vantage point that I can bring to the table.
“When you walk into assisted living facilities or long-term care centers, there’s such a huge disparity between training, care provided. Some places have amazing standards. Others do not, and I feel like coming in from the acute care center setting, I want to be able to level the playing field with the standard we provide.
“My role as I envision it, is to be able to help guide the staff so that the training is on an equal level. It brings everyone up to a quality standard and we are able to deliver what our residents deserve,” Massari said.
Graceland Gardens gives the aging population a place they can call home and enjoy their “golden, grace period” of life.
“You put your entire life and well-being into a lifetime of accomplishments, and you serve your community,” Massari said. “When you get older in some of these senior institutions, it has become, ‘Who is that person and what do they do? And it all seems forgotten and it’s not fair to the adult population. An amazing lifetime of accomplishments can sometimes come to a really sad close and I feel like in our society we are so programmed to ‘fix, fix, fix’ and when we can’t, we kind of push it to the wayside. It’s so sad.”
For residents at Graceland Gardens, Massari said they envision it to be “a place they can be proud to live” and for employees, to be “a place they can be proud to work”.
Andrew Gardner will serve as the facility’s Food Service Director and Housekeeping Director.
“I’ve been doing this for 33 years in assisted living,” he said. “The reason why I came here is because it’s a change. There’s no more short cutting meals. Everything is farm to table here. They are not cutting back on the food costs like the other facilities I’ve worked for. It’s all about the resident here and that’s what they deserve. This is a home like environment.”
Gardner said he fell in love with the concept.
“This is what I love to do,” he said. “In this business you get two checks, one you get to cash and the other one is from your heart.”
Gardner said creating adaptive diets is his specialty and he is able to prepare any types of foods.
“We’re going to have our menus with a ‘no added salt, no added sugar’ diet,” he said. “We will not be using a lot of frozen products. We will use all fresh vegetables.”
The facility’s kitchen is an open kitchen concept. Residents will be able to interact with Gardner, help with some meals, just short of being in the kitchen themselves.
“A lot of people are coming out of their own homes where they were cooking for themselves,” Selby said.
One of the few luxuries in life include choice. At Graceland Gardens, residents will have the ability to choose their own meals and choose the activities they want to do.
“I know when I woke up as a kid, the smell of garlic cooking, the food cooking, woke me up,” Gardner said.
Residents at Graceland Gardens will have that same type of nostalgia. If residents want to sleep in and want breakfast at 11 a.m., Gardner said they are a small enough facility to adjust and accommodate.
He said he plans fun things for the residents from a happy hour every day, wine and cheese on Fridays to holding a cooking club.
Graceland Gardens is now accepting applications for interested residents 65 years and older. One- and two-person suites are available.
The double occupancy units are for residents with familial status, domestic partnerships, civil unions and marriages.
For more information call 732-658-6490 and visit https://gracelandgardensnj.com/.