Keeping PACE with senior health

PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) Greater New Orleans is expanding to the West Bank with a new adult day health care center at the historic St. John Bosco Chapel on Hope Haven campus.

    A groundbreaking ceremony to jump start the project is scheduled Sept. 5 at 1 p.m. at the site – 1101 Barataria Blvd. in Marrero. Archbishop Gregory Aymond and Marianite Sister Marjorie Hebert, executive director of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, will be on hand.

“The PACE program is a unique program in the sense that it truly provides a comprehensive day care program for senior citizens,” said Joe Toomy, PACE Greater New Orleans board member and chairman of the West Bank Advisory committee for PACE.
A blessing for seniors
   “Not only does it provide for their social, medical and other needs, it provides transportation where needed,” Toomy added. “Every community could use a facility like this, but the West Bank, in particular, has a need for it. I think we will demonstrate that when the first phase of this project is complete.”
   The project will be built in three phases at a total projected cost of $5 million, said PACE executive director Stephanie Smith. When completed, the center will have the capacity to serve 300 seniors with specialized areas of care for dementia/Alzheimer’s clients, a clinic and more.
Asbestos abatement
The first phase includes asbestos removal at the former 6,800-square-foot chapel built in 1922 and then its renovation. Six bids were accepted in the competitive bid process for Phase I, Smith said.
   The refurbished chapel will initially house the day center for seniors and have a solarium, a wellness center and separate areas for Alzheimer’s and dementia clients, activities and other services. A drop-off entrance on the side will be added.
   When Phase I is completed within six to eight months, it will provide services for 130 seniors, with an average daily census of 85 people, Smith said.
   A new building will be constructed in Phase II to connect the chapel to the former school/gym building. It will house an art clinic, therapy services and a rehab center, a computer lab, full kitchen, library and conference rooms.
   In Phase III, the school building will be renovated for clients with lower cognitive functions.
   Medicaid budget constraints prevented the West Bank location to open as a full PACE center with full primary care services as did the original PACE center in the area – the Shirley Landry Benson PACE site at St. Cecilia in Bywater.
   Initially, services will generally include a care management team that coordinates medication, dietary needs, some nursing care, recreational and rehab therapy, basic wound care and family caregiver support, Smith said. Private pay, Veterans Administration and Medicaid waivers are accepted.
No residency requirements
   The West Bank site has no residency restrictions, and clients do not have to give up their doctors to use PACE physicians as at the St. Cecilia site.
   While the West Bank Day Healthcare Center will allow clients to live anywhere, transportation will be limited to a one-hour driving distance. Extended night and weekend hours will be provided.
   The Marrero location is considered a prime site since many seniors are living at home within a five-mile radius. An estimated 4,200-4,800 seniors on the West Bank would qualify for PACE. Already, there is a waiting list of clients anticipating its opening in spring 2014.
   “I think the West Bank will respond very well,” Toomy said.
   Plans have been underway for a West Bank adult day center for about four years, Smith said. The Archdiocese of New Orleans had donated the chapel and school to PACE, and PACE has invested approximately $250,000 for waterproofing, termite treatments and painting.
   In the early stages of development, PACE used a $200,000 grant from Baptist Community Ministries to study and design the former Hope Haven School building, Smith said. Blitch Knevel Architects had completed a redesign for the school, a needs analysis study and engineering.
   That plan changed once Federal Emergency Management Agency informed PACE that renovation projects of more than 50 percent of the value had to meet required basic flood levels. That meant the school building had to be raised two feet. The chapel sat higher above the ground, so PACE decided to renovate the church instead.
   “It was divine intervention,” Smith said. “It was meant to be in the church.”
Following the model
   This is the second former church that PACE Greater New Orleans chose as a senior day care site, something unique for a PACE Center nationwide, Smith said. The Shirley Landry Benson Center, which opened in 2007, is located in the restored former St. Cecilia Church.
    “We tried to retain as much as possible the original beauty of the (St. John Bosco) chapel,” Smith said. “Anything we could repurpose for functional use we did.”
   She said the infrastructure – air conditioning and electrical systems and new bathrooms – was upgraded to meet current codes. The Stations of the Cross, some statues, ironwork, lighting fixtures, stained glass and refurbished wood floors were retained, and confessionals will be used as dividers and a storage area.
   “That’s another exciting part of the project – just like St. Cecilia – it preserves a historic campus,” Toomy added. “Hope Haven is so identifiable on the West Bank with its Mission-style architecture. It means so much to so many people on the West Bank and in Greater New Orleans area.”
PACE on the move
   The PACE concept entails providing primary medical care for seniors age 55 or older who “prefer to stay in their homes with their families as long as possible,” Smith said.
   Recent upgrades amounting to $300,000 have been made at the Shirley Landry Benson PACE Center using best practices for seniors, such as “It’s Never Too Late” memory care system that encourages use of fine motor skills while playing video games, and a literacy program, Smith said. More concentrated areas of activity have been created with new colors, softer flooring and furniture. The different colors act as visual cues to help seniors identify activity areas.
   These best practices also will be incorporated into the Marrero site, Smith said.
   PACE also has diversified by assuming management of the Catholic Charities of New Orleans’ Greenwalt Center in Kenner. This will allow a sharing of resources such as buses, staff and electronic records, Smith said.
   While the West Bank center will not initially open as a full-service PACE Center, it will work its way there.
   “We will continue to push forward to evolve this into a PACE Center as funds become available,” Smith said.
   “There’s a tremendous opportunity for growth of the program given the space on Hope Haven campus,” Toomy said.
   PACE can be reached at 835-0006 or
   Christine Bordelon can be reached at

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