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Mary Wade Celebrates Its History and Mission

New Haven’s Mary Wade Home, at 150 years, continues to expand mission

‘The people here are like family’

NEW HAVEN >> Millie Sullivan is 95 years old, uses a wheelchair after having suffered a stroke, has some hearing loss and is president of the Resident Council of the Mary Wade Home.

It’s people like Sullivan, who previously lived in New Haven, who exemplify the resident-centered focus of the assisted-living facility in the city’s Fair Haven neighborhood, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

“I listen to any of their gripes and then report it to the department whether it’s complimentary or negative and I ask for ideas,” said Sullivan, who has lived at Mary Wade for two years in the 94-bed Kimberly skilled-nursing section.

While any group will have some complainers, they don’t number many at the Mary Wade Home, where the staff attempts to meet each resident’s individual needs and desires. They’re “very nice, they’re very pleasant; they make it really feel like home because they have activities in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening, so we’re kept busy,” said Sullivan.

Marian Lemley, 88, who moved to Mary Wade’s Boardman assisted-living facility from West Haven, hasn’t slowed down since she arrived nine years ago. She’s a member of the Chatham Square Neighborhood Association and has tutored children in a Fair Haven homework club.

“What we do is make sure that they’re doing their homework rather than running around the neighborhood,” she said.

“I have a very strong commitment to it,” Lemley said of Mary Wade and its role in New Haven. “Honey, if I didn’t like it, I would have moved out a week after I moved in!”

Lemley, who just became a great-grandmother for the first time, helps sell tickets to events such as the Christmas bazaar and is engaged in a variety of ways.

“Whatever comes along and needs doing I do,” she said.

She’ll visit with new residents who may have questions or be a little confused about the transition from what may have been a longtime home.

“Basically the people that are here are family. Absolutely. I say that with no reservation at all,” Lemley said. “They’re always willing to go the extra mile.”

So is Lemley. “For a couple years I was Miss Mary Wade” for the annual neighborhood parade, “dressed up in the costume and the whole bit,” she said.

Mary Wade was the sister of Lucy Boardman, one of the founders of the home in 1866, along with the wife of Eli Whitney and other prominent women of New Haven. They started the home originally for young women and children.

“The ladies represented all the churches of the New Haven community” Hunter said.

Later, the home served only elderly women; the first men didn’t arrive until the 1980s, which “caused a little bit of controversy” with a few residents, according to Chief Executive Officer David Hunter, who arrived at Mary Wade as administrator 35 years ago. The skilled-nursing center was added in 1989 and in 1993 the Mary Wade Home launched an adult day center, which draws elders from all over Greater New Haven.

“That became so successful we built an addition to that in 2000,” Hunter said.

Hunter is as focused on his staff members as he is on the residents.

“Providing quality jobs to people in the area has always been, for me, important,” he said. “We have a very strong scholarship program. We help a lot of people. Even though we do a lot for senior care, we do a lot for people in this area.”

Since the 1990s, the home has bought houses in the vicinity, which it rehabilitated as affordable housing. Some staff members live in those houses.

As head of an elder-care residence, Hunter has seen many residents finish out their lives at Mary Wade. “To me there’s a hallowedness about this land and this building,” he said. “And to me it’s an honor to be the steward of it.”

Laurene Ortowski, director of dietary services, has been with the Mary Wade Home for 33 years.

“I learned our culture by coming here as a young girl,” she said. “Our residents always came first. … The expectation was always high, our service of caring, the delivery of services, and it trickled down to every department.”

Ortowski told of buying special ingredients to make a porridge for a West Indian resident — who wasn’t happy until her third try — and of a new program in which a choice of meals are brought to the residents by the dining staff. “Our residents get to choose their selection right from the cart,” Ortowski said. “We get to spend time with our residents.

The attitude is, “We’re a guest in their home and we work for them,” she said. Never before “did I ever work for a place where the residents and the staff always came first.”

“I love it here. It’s my second family,” said Jessica Soto, a certified nurse’s aide and medical technician who has been on the staff for 14 years. “It’s my second family because I treat them as if they were my own grandparents and the staff is great to work with as well.”

“It’s not like an institution; it’s a home. We go way above and beyond to make sure it’s person-centered care,” said Rosanne Mondrone, community relations director, who also admits new residents. She started 19 years ago as a nurse in the skilled-nursing unit.

“If you’re not all on the same page, you don’t want to be here, because there’s a high level of expectation. … I think we’re very unique in the way we treat families, we treat people, we treat each other,” Mondrone said.

Tiffany Burnham is Mary Wade’s recreation director, responsible for planning most activities for residents. Besides traditional trips and entertainment, she has the help of a newfangled computer program that allows residents to Skype their great-grandchildren, watch vintage TV shows and commercials, listen to all kinds of music and take tai chi classes.

Called “It’s Never Too Late,” the system can be used on five computer terminals at the home and for groups on a large screen in the community room. It has multiple benefits, Burnham said.

Designed with seniors in mind, she said of the program, known as “IN2L,” “I would say connecting with not only families because it has a whole email capacity and Skype, but being connected with past interests.

“There’s also capacity for people who are unable to verbally communicate,” said Burnham.

The variety of music is especially helpful to connect with those who are unable to verbalize, she said.

“They’re staying connected with their life history,” said Kara Hunter, director of marketing and David Hunter’s daughter. “The things they loved, the things they were around.

“The grandchildren, the great-grandchildren are so computer-oriented, this really acts as a bridge,” Kara Hunter said. “It’s a really nice way to bridge all those interests together and give everyone something to do.”

Activities include trivia games and Family Feud. And there’s a spiritual section that includes a guided rosary.

Looking to the future, David Hunter said there are plans for a new building across Pine Street that will include a unit for residents with dementia, as well as apartments for singles or couples.

“We want to be a good neighbor in this Fair Haven residential area,” he said. “At the same time, we are compelled to grow and expand our mission to be of service to the growing number of senior citizens.”

As part of its 150th-anniversary celebration, the Mary Wade Home will hold its 11th annual wine dinner at 6 p.m. April 30 at the Omni New Haven Hotel. Tickets to the gala, which will feature Tuscan wines of Carpineta, are $200. For more information, go to www.marywade.org/events or contact Kara Hunter at khunter@marywade.org or 203-672-7813.

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