Chris Slavicek knows a thing or two about community-building. In addition to being the senior administrator at CareOne at East Brunswick Assisted Living, he’s the mayor of the adjacent community of Helmetta, where he’s lived his entire life.
“My heart has always been in this community,” he said.
So, when Slavicek, a 15-year veteran of the senior living industry, was tapped to open CareOne at East Brunswick, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I knew immediately that we needed to build a very special place that had a small-town feel that people could call home,” he said.
And that’s exactly what Slavicek and his team at CareOne have created. As soon as the facility opened in 2020, “people walked in and were blown away,” he said. “We’re nothing like what people expect of a senior living community.”
From the facility’s upscale amenities to its innovative approach to memory care to a culinary program that’s second to none, CareOne at East Brunswick Assisted Living is truly a place for seniors to call home.
A Homelike Atmosphere with Luxury Amenities
One of the first things people notice about CareOne at East Brunswick is its cozy, intimate atmosphere, which Slavicek describes as being “almost like a ski lodge.” The newly- constructed facility offers bright and modern furniture, lighting and interior finishes with some special touches, including the works of local artists highlighting residents’ favorite actors, athletes and musicians throughout history. “Our artists did a great job showcasing moments through time, and residents enjoy taking a walk down memory lane as they explore their new surroundings,” Slavicek said.
While the facility offers fully furnished apartments, residents are encouraged to bring their own decor. “We do everything we can to help residents feel at home the moment they walk in the door,” Slavicek said.
Other spots that CareOne is proud to show off include a four-seasons room that presents a spectacular view of the great outdoors, an art studio, a speakeasy, a cafe with a bar and ice cream parlor, and a movie theater.
But the facility offers more than just visual appeal: Many of the amenities are specifically designed with senior users in mind. For instance, the Forever Fit gym is tailor-made for seniors, offering HUR technology, which uses air resistance training to help residents safely achieve their health and wellness goals. Residents are able to work with a physical therapist to design an exercise regimen personalized to their fitness needs.
For those who prefer to stretch their legs outdoors, the center offers a full walking path, along with an outdoor gazebo, a tranquil garden and multiple sitting areas.
Patient-Centered Memory Care in Distinct Neighborhoods
When it comes to caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, CareOne at East Brunswick is ahead of the curve, with nearly three-quarters of its residences dedicated to residents who require memory care. These Harmony Village communities are organized in distinct “neighborhoods” for residents with varying stages of memory impairment, and CareOne strives to ensure each resident who has dementia spends time engaging in activities with peers who have similar cognitive skills. Each neighborhood has its own kitchen area and a sensory room, where CareOne’s activities team provides a full schedule of stimulating activities every day, seven days a week.
“We find more success meeting people at the level they’re at, rather than over- or under-challenging them,” said Joan DiPaola, a senior dementia specialist who leads CareOne’s memory care training program.
And staffers are trained to use problem-solving skills to help residents maintain as much independence as possible. For example, “If someone has trouble combing their hair, an employee might find that simply adjusting the person’s mirror can help,” DiPaola said. “And when they’re successful, we’re right there with them, celebrating each achievement, no matter how big or small.”
DiPaola works with a team of highly-seasoned dementia specialists to provide regular training to all CareOne employees — from the skilled nursing team to the hospitality staff — to ensure that all memory care patients receive consistent, high-quality, patient-centered care.
One key piece of the training: “Employees are taught to look at each resident as a person, rather than a diagnosis,” DiPaola said. Families are a key part of the puzzle, helping by creating a “life story” book featuring their loved one, so that CareOne staffers can get to know each resident personally from the moment they enter their new home.
And a team of dementia specialists conduct monthly “Food for Thought” training sessions with residents’ families to offer education and support.
An Unmatched Culinary Program
At some health care facilities, institutional, out-of-the-can, hospital-style cookery is the norm. The opposite is true at CareOne: Its culinary professionals use farm-to-table ingredients and from-scratch cooking techniques to develop seasonal dishes and fresh desserts.
The center partners with Jersey Fresh to make sure its chefs are able to source the freshest and best products to satisfy residents’ palates while helping them achieve their wellness goals.
And the center is always cooking up new options: It recently launched a new, fresh-pressed coffee and tea program made possible by a partnership with a local provider. And it is rolling out a host of new plant-based menu items.
All residents’ meals are served restaurant-style. “We believe offering multiple choices is very important,” Slavicek said.
While all of CareOne at East Brunswick’s design features and amenities are highly appealing, Slavicek acknowledges that it takes the work of a dedicated staff to build the kind of community that CareOne has become. “At the end of the day, it’s the friendliness and warmth of the staff that makes people feel most at home,” he said.