A college campus is the new place for Erie County senior citizens looking to get care and socialization while avoiding going into a nursing home, as Catholic Health officially unveiled its new day facility at Villa Maria College in Cheektowaga Wednesday.
A $4.7 million project took place over the last year to renovate vacant space in the Felician Sisters’ on-campus motherhouse into a space where seniors spend part of their day for treatment, socialization and a warm meal.
The facility, dubbed LIFE Villa, has been operating since Sept. 9.
It’s part of the federal government's Program for All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), which provides care for people 55 and over, typically those eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, who qualify for a nursing home but can still safely live at home.
Catholic Health outgrew its other PACE facility in Lackawanna, OLV Senior Neighborhood, and a college campus seemed like an ideal spot for a second location, said John Beyer, president and CEO of Catholic Health’s Living Independently for Elders (LIFE) program.
“Elderly people love young people,” he told WBFO. “They love their grandchildren and these are their grandchildren.”
In addition to being located in a part of the county where many of its seniors already live, Villa Maria College also provides other benefits like interaction with students, Beyer said. Occupational and physical therapy students will train at LIFE Villa, while visual and performing arts students may provide some art and music-based therapy.
“The missions of the Felician Sisters, Catholic Health LIFE and Villa Maria College align nicely, all seeking to impact the lives of others and provide value to the community,” said Villa Maria College President Dr. Matthew Giordano in a statement.
The elderly spending time on college campuses is not all that rare.
More and more colleges and universities are building retirement communities in order to use up available campus space and bring in revenue, including SUNY Purchase, which is building 220 apartments for those 62 and older, as well as 36 assisted living apartments and 36 memory care suites.
For LIFE Villa participant William Robinson, he’s just glad to have a place to spend part of his day.
“It’s a place for socialization,” the 73-year-old told WBFO. “You don’t have to be alone. You don’t have to be by yourself. It gives you a lot to look forward to.”
Robinson lost his wife of 45 years about four years ago and suffered a brain aneurysm about two years ago. He’s been living with his brother, but is about to move into his own apartment. He might take advantage of Catholic Health LIFE’s additional in-home services once he does.
He credits the program for part of his recovery from the brain aneurysm.
“At this point I feel I’ve come a long way and a lot of it was because of the guidance and the help of this organization and these people here,” he said. “They gave me such encouragement, they brought me a long way, they gave me a reason to go on.”
While Robinson is currently one of just about 10 seniors attending LIFE Villa in a given day, Beyer said they expect that number to increase. The OLV Senior Neighborhood has about 60 to 70 seniors attending in a given day.
Approximately 260 seniors total are enrolled in the LIFE program.