Successful Indian Program at AristaCare Senior Care is adding additional services

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From left, Mukund Thakar, founder of the Indian Program at AristaCare facility in New Jersey, Jocelyn Delgado, director of Business Development, Robert Greenberg, executive director of AristaCare Health Services, and Padma Shri recipient Dr. Sudhir Parikh, Chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold, discussing the services offered at the senior care facility on ITV Gold recently. Photo: ITV Gold.

Following other nursing homes in the United States, AristaCare senior care facility is moving towards full operation after a ‘Closed Door’ mandatory policy implemented to address and avoid the spread of Covid pandemic.

Best known for years among India- Americans for its Indian Program, much used by them for its culturally sensitive program, and quality care, AristaCare at Cedar Oaks is a 230 room senior care facility located in South Plainfield, New Jersey. With a Medicare Quality Rating of 5 stars, AristaCare has recently also received the 2019 Eli Pick Facility Leadership Award from the American College of Health Care Administrators for excellence in Post Acute Care facility and administrative leadership of the facility.

Nursing homes are a major part of American society. According to Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports, there are more than 15,000 Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing homes in the U.S. and more than 1.4 million elderly or disabled residents live in these nursing homes.

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AristaCare, and its Indian Program have also introduced new services to meet future situations of being totally isolated. To their already existing exceptional Therapeutic Recreation department, they have added a new system called ‘It’s Never Too Late’ (IN2L) which uses innovative and personalized technology to allow the resident to keep in touch with the outside world with the help of a webcam, to read a favorite story to his grandchild, for example, on the giant screen, allowing residents the opportunity to ‘escape’ to the outside world and ‘visit’ places, while sitting, standing or lying down.

Mukund Thakar, Robert Greenberg, Jocelyn Delgado of AristaCare, New Jersey, and Padma Srhri recipient Dr. Sudhir Parikdh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold. Photo: ITV Gold
Nidhi Kathuria, host of ITV Gold conducting the panel discussion on AristaCare Indian Program. Photo: ITV Gold

Recently, three administrative leaders involved in AristaCare Indian Program held a discussion with Padma Shri recipient Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold, and host Nidhi Kathuria of ITV Gold, talking about what they went through during the pandemic, outlining the program which caters to Indian American residents, and how they have introduced new elements to the program to make it more effective.

AristaCare executives on the show were Mukund Thakar, founder of the Indian Program, Jocelyn Delgado, director of Business Development, and Robert Greenberg, executive director of AristaCare Health Services at the ITV Gold studio in Edison, N.J.

Association with AristaCare has been old for Parikh, going back to his days as President of the Federation of Indian Associations, he said. It is a much needed program catering particularly to seniors, he said. “You have everything at home, except for the social life and social interaction which are very important at that age for physical and emotional health,” Parikh said, adding, that is what the Indian Program at AristaCare gives them, providing social activities along with Indian food, which is a very important part of seniors’ lives, Parikh said. Parikh explained that changing food habits is difficult in old age, and seniors at AristaCare are happy with food they are used to, especially when it is better tasting and has more varieties. Excellent medical care makes the program more successful.

A Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, Delgado has special experience in dealing with the senior population, and together with Greenberg has created Nostalgia Park, a new program for Dementia patients, with a focus on the patient and their day-to-day routine, creating the feeling of belonging and normalcy.

Thakar conceived the idea of the India Program through his 16-year-career at nursing homes. He observed Indian-American residents feeling uncomfortable or unhappy due to the differences in the environment, language, and food.

He designed the program which, when fully implemented at AristaCare, focuses on everything Indian that the residents are used to. The food is Indian, nurses are Indian, as are the doctors, the décor and even a temple with regular prayers, festival celebrations, and social activities.

Thakar said the Indian Program at AristaCare has been a very successful program, with residents coming in from New Jersey, Los Angeles, Chicago, Florida and other states. At AristaCare’s Cedar Oak Care Center, close to fifty percent of the residents are Indian, according to Thakar. “We started this program in 2005 and community liked this program so much that in less than a year, we had between fifty and fifty two Indian residents,” Thakar said, adding that currently there are 112 residents of the program.

Because many of the Indian residents, ages 65 to 105, were not physically active, AristaCare Indian Program has introduced in-house daily activities for them, Thakar said. Starting at 9:00 am and ending at 7:00 pm, there is breakfast, prayer and some mild recreational activities like playing Bingo, or celebrating either Indian or American festivals, till lunch. A two-hour rest after lunch, and a get together for a religious program like reading from the Gita, or storybooks, and ‘aarati’ and ‘pooja’, are followed by dinner and bedtime. In their rooms, residents can watch TV with Indian program channels, or read Indian newspapers, including News India Times, Desi Talk, and others. Special festivals like ‘Navraatri’ are celebrated with visiting community members doing ‘garba’ and prayers.

The atmosphere at AristaCare is friendly, according to Delgado, noting that AristaCare is a family oriented company. “So the staff is family as well, just as the residents. And you can see that on the floors with the residents and staff, the way they treat each other, the way they talk to each other. It is very heartwarming to see, and I really feel like we are special in that way,” Delgado said.

AristaCare’s Better Care Program incorporates the full model of healthcare, Greenberg explained. It uses telemedicine with help of the equipment in the resident’s room which connects visually to the doctor who can observe the patients being checked per his request and make a diagnosis based on that. Greenberg came up with the idea after talking to a doctor who had worked in India in a rural area that did not have physicians and had makeshift places set up where the physicians reached their patients remotely. “I said if they could do that in a village in India, why can’t I do it in America. So, we did. We were the first company in this state to bring this in,” Greenberg said.

Apart from an in-house nurse practioner, AristaCare has added clinical components to the original model, such as a cardiac program overseen by a visiting cardiologist. “Better Care, that phrase and term, incorporates all these things that we do, but couldn’t find a better word to describe. We do it better, so Better Care,” Greenberg said.

Quality care and addressing potential patient abuse is assured by maintaining total transparency and easy accessibility.  “We take several steps to make sure that the patient and the family can get directly in touch with administration,” Greenberg said. AristaCare has appointed a special Director of Quality Experience to whom other employees are directly answerable. The director can be called directly with any complaints on the feedback line and link, either by the resident or a family memeber. There is also a computerized program to record the grievances and the director does daily rounds, learning a lot from residents.

According to all three speakers, AristaCare handled the pandemic outbreak very well.

Thakar said, “We used to go to each room and talk to the resident, pray with them, and explain the reality of the situation. It was a very tough time and we tried to do whatever we could. I hope that tough time is gone and is not going to come back.”

“We had to be really behind our team to help them and provide that support from the top to make sure that everyone felt like they were supported. And that translated to the residents,” Delgado said. “We started going constantly to the rooms and using FaceTime and Zoom etc. to connect them with their family members,” she added.

Discussants noted how the situation was getting back to normal with the availability of vaccines.

Dr. Parikh congratulated the team, adding they can count on support from him and his media group. “I have always believed that when you give something back to the community, that is called legacy, and that is when people will remember and you will feel very satisfied. It’s a double pleasure,” he said.

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