New Jersey-based facility offers Indian cultural and spiritual services and treats patients like family
AristaCare, a long term nursing home with several facilities in New Jersey, provides culturally-specific Indian surroundings and care to seniors who live there. It is not a business, say those involved with running it, but rather a temple for doing God’s work for the elderly.
The institution’s special Indian Nursing Home Program includes physicians and nursing staff of Indian origin, Desi food, religious services, activities, decor, TV, music, newspapers, atmosphere, and customs so that seniors feel at home. Multiple languages such as Hindi, Punjabi and Gujarati are spoken by nursing staff and physicians, poojas and other temple activities as well as Indian media entertainment are available.
The architect of this program is Dr. Mukund Thakkar, who sat down for an interview with Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold. Along with him were Richard Greenberg, marketing executive for AristaCare, and Ankita Patel, director at AristaCare.
The philosophy behind the Indian Program at AristaCare was developed by Dr. Thakkar. “This is not a business…” said Dr. Thakkar at one point in the interview, emphasizing that he would do for his residents what he would do for his parents and grandparents.
“This program is for me, my heart and soul,” said Thakkar. His whole family, including his daughters, his son and his sons-in-law and daughters-in-law are involved in the program. “We completely think that these are our parents and grandparents. We never think this is our business. We never thing we are doing nursing home work,” he said.
Even his staff addresses the patients in those terms as Maa, Baa, Dada, when talking to them, Thakkar said. “So they think (residents) think that this is our family.”
Dr. Thakkar went on to say that the concept for this kind of program was not his. “It is created by God.” The first God in his religion, he said, was the mother, the second was the father, and the third was the teacher or guru. “God comes in number 4. And God says, if you avoid all these people and you come to my temple, I will never smile for you, I will even open my eyes for you.” Which is why, he said, he believes he was sent by God to come here and to create the only program of its kind in America.
“Sometimes, I never sleep at night. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I see someone of my parents are suffering, I sit down together at 4 o’clock in the morning and pray for them,” Dr. Thakkar said.
He praised Dr. Parikh for his support. “Sudhirbhai is a very, very well known person in the community,” not just in New Jersey but around the country.
Dr. Parikh spoke of his support for the Indian Program at AristaCare since 2005 when he encouraged Dr. Thakkar and Sydney Greenberg, to have a platform at an Indian-American banquet. He also recalled his personal experiences when his own mother-in-law and mother were housed in the AristaCare facility, and he visited frequently while his wife Dr. Sudha Parikh visited her mother daily.
“I understood right away the work being done by Mukund,” Dr. Parikh said, noting that parents and grandparents who come from India follow certain traditions and have various rituals in food and religion, and for AristaCare’s India Program to provide these inputs was extremely relevant.
Dr. Thakkar said it was an honor to have Dr. Parikh’s family members at his nursing home. “I tell my community this is a temple of God, this is not a nursing home,” Thakkar said.
Ankita Patel, director at AristaCare, and Dr. Thakkar’s daughter, noted how parents back in India prayed in the morning before getting down to the work of the day. “So that is what they do here.. They do prayers before they do anything in the morning, and same in the evening,” Patel said.
Dr. Parikh said money was not everything in life and passion, as well as care and empathy toward the sick and elderly was very important. He described Dr. Thakkar a “legacy” in the Indian community, who had taken a simple idea and turned it into a successful endeavor.
Thakkar called for even more support to AristaCare’s India Program so that it could offer even more to those who chose to live there. The program had succeeded for 15 years because more than 95 percent of those who have experienced it, have been satisfied.
Dr. Parikh said the best gauge of whether the program was successful was to ask those who have lived at AristaCare what they think of the India Program. “When my mother called me last week and said she is having the blessing of the Rath Yatra, then that’s the most satisfying to me than anything else. That tells e the story of the facility.”
Patel spoke about the immense preparation that goes into making the Rath Yatra a reality at the nursing home, as does the New Year’s festival. During COVID-19, the Rath Yatra was even more challenging. She and Dr. Thakkar noted how the staff, both Indian and non-Indian, got involved in the preparations and how they were treated as family.
“I do the program with my heart and my soul /… that’s why it is successful,” Dr. Thakkar said.