PINELLAS PARK, FL. – In this day and age of an abundance of assisted living facilities and nursing homes, it’s difficult to decide where to relocate a loved one who is no longer able to fully take care of themselves. The Free Press – Tampa had the opportunity recently to interview residents and family members of Magnolia Gardens Assisted Living Community. We wanted to grasp what it’s really like to reside here for the 60-plus crowd. After meeting the administrator and talking with six families and residents, the impression was left that this is a moderately-priced, private-pay, not-for-profit luxury home with a stalwart reputation. The residents aren’t bored, the activities are plentiful from regular exercise to playing Bingo, and the food – which is the tough part after making your own meals your whole life – is actually really good. A real chef is employed full time and spices things up in the kitchen to make a show of it. There is one gazebo and plenty of shade in two courtyards outside, a nice library, a hair salon, peace and quiet in private and cheery studio, one and two-bedroom apartments, and a professional staff and leadership that everyone said they really liked or thought was outstanding and “a blessing.” The property does not charge large, upfront fees, and they don’t charge extra for additional help needed as residents age, unlike many of their competitors.
Six years ago, Janis Beaumier of Pinellas Park faced a real dilemma. Her mother, 85 years old and suffering from dementia and partial blindness was being treated poorly at an unrelated health and rehabilitation center providing recovery from a fall. Her doctor prescribed a pill with zombie-like side effects. “My mother acted as if she were in a coma-like state,” Janis said. “I know she was frightened. But after 90 days, I relocated her to Magnolia Gardens and she immediately started getting better and better. I was having nightmares about other places I’d seen, and I couldn’t take care of her because my hips are arthritic. But she’s been here five-and-a-half years now. I think they have compassion, sympathy, and empathy here, and a lot of places I looked at smelled of urine or had bad odors when you walked in the front door. Not here.” Regarding how often she visits her mother, she chimed, “Before COVID-19, I saw my mother every day because she’s my baby, but now I see her often due to the flexible regulations on visiting.”
Residents and family members we talked with said Magnolia Gardens passed the “white glove” test. They clean everyone’s apartments every week, take the trash out every day, and are doing partial remodeling to add a new look in the lobby. Some new dining and activities room chairs will be arriving soon.
“They’ve kept things very spic ‘n span during COVID,” said resident Valerie Zacher, a retired art teacher who has lived here three years. She suffers from macular degeneration, but she will be 100 years old in March. She said, “At 86, I launched a new art career teaching for the YWCA after-care program and elementary schools.” When asked what she likes best about the place, she said, “The friendliness of the staff. They go out of their way to match you up with people and help you fit in and help you with choosing activities. I’m glad my apartment is large enough that I can hold a whole Bible study in it with six people!” When asked if her walk-in bathroom was large enough she said “Yes, it’s a comfortable size.”
Caring for everyone’s health is reflected in the community’s every-two-hours resident check. Also, they assist with medications for self-administration, it’s easy to sign up to see the resident doctor, and it’s easy to get to the doctor’s office within a 10-mile radius using the community-provided transportation. There’s also an on-site physical therapist and therapy room.
Nadine Brockway whose 97-year-old mother has lived at Magnolia Gardens for eight years said one reason she chose this property over a total of 20 she had seen was that it has no elevator. “My mother got stuck in one, so for us, ‘no elevator’ was important. My mother always tells me, ‘I’ve got no aches or pains, I sleep like a baby, which gives me peace of mind. When asked about how helpful the staff is, Nadine said, “My mother can’t dial the phone anymore, but the staff never have a problem dialing numbers for her. I can’t think of a time that the staff has ever been nasty. Another thing I like is that Magnolia Gardens doesn’t isolate its residents like others do or make visiting difficult.”
A World War II vet and former businessman likes his social life here, according to his daughter, Gail Shreves-Yeager. Asked what she thinks of the place, she said, “I like that they can accommodate my dad’s sociable nature. Before COVID-19, he and his friends went out on rides around town and he misses that right now. But he also loves sports, so he’s got that and Bingo.
The other thing I like is that Magnolia Gardens doesn’t nickel-and-dime you every month. I have friends whose loved ones have had terrible expenses unexpectedly. Here, it’s all-inclusive. I know what to expect.”
Speaking of what to expect, Jackie Jordan is content. “My kids chose Magnolia Gardens and wouldn’t let me in most of the ones they looked at. But I fell several times elsewhere, so it was time to move. They made the right choice here – my nose doesn’t twitch – this place is clean.” Jackie retired as a supervisor with Child Protective Services and used to raise guide dogs for the blind. I would say, Jackie is an interesting lady, but she will probably beat you at Trivia. And the word games.
Other folks that chimed in include Priscilla Whitlock, a former accountant and beautician who said, “The rules are good around here, they’ve made it safe with COVID-19 and they’re very responsive to needs – they make arrangements to help you.” Marilyn Ernstine who has lived here for two years said her second fall with an impact on her speech brought her here after her daughters picked Magnolia Gardens and she approved. “Friends are easy here,” she said.
Lisa Elliott, Administrator for the community, has worked with the aging population for close to a decade. “I like working with older people because they have unique challenges that keep me searching for solutions that accommodate their needs,” she said. Lisa completed her Masters’ Degree with Troy University, majoring in Counseling and Psychology, with a specialization in Human Services and obtained her Bachelor’s Degree with University of South Florida, majoring in social work. When asked about COVID-19 rules, she said, “We wear masks, practice social distancing, and sanitize and disinfect the high touch, common areas of the building every two hours.” She also mentioned they added new games and have adjusted to small groups to protect one another. If you come for a visit, you’ll be screened at the door with a health survey and have your temperature checked.
Overall, we got the sense that Magnolia Gardens ALF may be Pinellas County’s best-kept secret in senior assisted housing! Magnolia Gardens is located at 3800 62nd Avenue North in Pinellas Park. Their website is magnoliagardensalf.com. You can call them at (727) 489-6440.
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