One-on-one with… Mary Ellen Bloodgood

In 1912, a group of men decided that the Jewish community in Syracuse, New York, needed a place to shelter its elderly. That mission led to the creation and construction of The Jewish Home, a 35-unit rooming house that has continued to expand its footprint over the years.

Since 2002, Mary Ellen Bloodgood, LNHA, CASP and CEO of Menorah Park (the former Jewish Home), has continued to spearhead that expansion to serve the entire community that began more than 100 years ago. She is the recipient of the Association of Jewish Aging Services’ Dr. Herbert Shore Award of Honor in recognition of her outstanding work and leadership in the development and growth of Menorah Park.  Long-Term Living Managing Editor, Sandra Hoban spoke with Bloodgood about the past, present and future of Menorah Park.

Has aging services always been your primary field of interest?

Actually, I studied finance originally. My career path found me working for some not-for-profit organizations. A strong interest in long-term care (LTC) didn’t come about until I took a position in the finance department of a nursing home. Eventually, I left that position and came to The Jewish Home, a much larger facility, when a chief financial officer (CFO) position became available in 1987.

As CFO, I got to see the entire operation. It was vibrant, focused and well-run; I wanted to be part of the big picture and transitioned from the finance area into the operations aspect of long-term care. I enrolled in some healthcare administration courses and began working on my administrator’s license. That was in the 1990s, and that decision has worked out fine.

You are credited with developing Menorah Park from a stand-alone building into a senior campus community. What inspired you to embark on this mission?

First, let me explain that in the state of New York, continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) must be licensed. While our campus has all the elements of a CCRC, we choose to operate as a continuum of care campus.

The culture change explosion was a prime incentive to change things. The institutional model ,with its long hallways and residents sitting outside the doors, was wrong—it looked old. What we needed was a new, vibrant community, and culture change gave us the options, opportunity and passion to improve our senior care environment. This led to the founding of Menorah Park, Inc., in 2002. While it is a Jewish organization, it is an inclusive community. Many residents and others who avail themselves of our services and supports are of other faiths and races.

What makes Menorah Park different from other LTC communities?

We’ve gone beyond what would be considered a “typical” senior housing campus. Along with our nursing home, supportive housing, medical adult day care and affordable apartments, our 35-acre campus also includes the Beth Tikvah Group Residence, which is a group home for young ladies with developmental disabilities. We are also home to the Rodney and Marjorie Fink Institute at Menorah Park, which conducts research on geriatric mental health. To serve the greater community, we brought the Jewish Family Service into our organization as a social services arm and outreach, along with our “Meals on Wheels” program.

Menorah Park looks different than other LTC settings; we continue to reach out to the community to see what else we can do. In 2014, we opened the Temple Beth El Community Room. One of the temples in Syracuse had to close, and they gave us their beautiful stained glass windows and memorabilia. This center provides a wealth of information and artifacts on the Jewish heritage and influence in Central New York.

Socialization is an important part of aging. Menorah Park makes sure that there are opportunities to connect with others. Our residents don’t lack for visitors. For example, children love to come to see their grandparents. We have a wonderful playground where they can have fun and enjoy time outdoors.

So, you see, Menorah Park is an intergenerational, socially aware organization that not only provides supports to the elderly in the region regardless of their religious beliefs, but is also active in providing solutions to social needs and problems.

It seems you have most—if not all—the bases covered in creating a comprehensive community. What’s next on the agenda for Menorah Park?

We want to focus on healthy aging. To encourage others, we are building a new rehabilitation center with a café/piano bar and a sports bar. To many people, these amenities are part of healthy aging. Another important focus on the agenda is to expand interior space by adding sliding glass doors and more windows to connect with the outdoors.

Finally, as more people choose to remain at home, Menorah Park’s Home Care Agency will incorporate its services into community venues and encourage those needing help to access our campus services.

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