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Our Parents Home to close after 82 years

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After 80-plus years as a thriving Jewish old aged home in the heart of Norwood, Our Parents Home (OPH) will be closed down and its residents are to move to other Chevrah Kadisha facilities or a facility of their choosing.

This was the decision made by the Chevrah Kadisha (The Chev) – which runs seven care facilities in Johannesburg – because unfortunately it cannot maintain this home at 16% capacity.

“Our community is at an inflection point,” says the Chev’s chief executive, Saul Tomson. “We could either let things run their course, or we could make difficult but responsible decisions at the right time. It’s very sad as OPH has always been a landmark and a very important part of our community. However, there’s just not enough demand for two Jewish old age homes.”

He says OPH is running at 16% of its capacity, which translates to 38 residents. Of these, only about 15 are able to leave their room and interact with others. Over the past five years, there have been very few new admissions.

The Chev announced this news to residents and their families on Wednesday, 11 May, before an official announcement was sent out to the entire community on Friday, 13 May. Some community members expressed shock and dismay on social media, while others expressed support.

“Not only are young people leaving the country, there are also fewer elderly people in the community. More are choosing to stay in their homes for longer, which has led to a dramatic increase in the financial assistance the Chev provides to those ageing at home,” says Tomson.

“We have a strong view that our community needs to halve its infrastructure, but double the quality. As state services continue to decline, we also have to invest in alternative solutions. Consolidation is key to sustainability.”

Tomson and his senior staff personally met residents and reassured them that they would be there every step of the transition. “We have also given ample time for the transition to take place,” says Tomson – nearly eight months, with the facility closing on 31 December 2022. “We will try to accommodate as many OPH staff as possible in other roles across the organisation.”

After meeting the residents, the care team at the Chev spoke to almost all their families telephonically. “The facility was opened in 1940, initially to welcome Jewish immigrants fleeing from the horrors of the Holocaust,” wrote Tomson. “Since then, Our Parents Home has provided a safe and comfortable haven and home to thousands of residents. Please be assured that this decision wasn’t taken lightly, hastily, or without long and careful consideration and deliberation. In due course, we’ll have a commemorative ceremony for Our Parents Home.

“We have enough space to absorb all the residents at Sandringham Gardens (SG) or Golden Acres”, Tomson says, “and we will assist every resident practically with the move. Some may choose to move to non-Chev facilities, and we will help them with that. Many residents don’t have family here, and we’re sensitive to their anxiety about packing up their lives. We have allocated a social worker and an operations team to assist them emotionally and practically.”

More than a dozen residents have said that they would be happy to move to SG earlier than December.

Anne Kopelowitz (86) has been a resident at OPH for 18 years. “I’m sad to see this wonderful chapter end, however I have been assured that I will be moving into a lovely room at Sandringham Gardens. I have always loved the camaraderie, beautiful rooms, and good food at Our Parents Home, and I know we’re going to receive the same treatment and luxury. I’m anxious about the move, but it’s an exciting new chapter in my life,” she says.

Lynette Yach, the social worker at OPH, was the first social worker to be employed by the home, and has worked there for 18 years. She was admissions manager at SG for 20 years. In 2021, she returned to OPH as a social worker.

“I always regarded OPH as a home from home for the elderly. It is known to be a warm and happy place,” she says. “The residents aren’t surprised at the news, and have accepted it with gratitude. They look forward to meeting new residents and their new environment. I’m positive that they will enjoy a new chapter, where they will receive love and care and be showered with comprehensive services to meet their individual needs.”

Tomson says that as residents of OPH saw the numbers dwindling, the uncertainty about the home’s future weighed heavily on them. “So the main emotion I experienced after the meeting with residents was relief. Now they have certainty and a timeline, with committed and dedicated people to help them with this change.”

He points out that though OPH was often very quiet, “Sandringham Gardens is bustling with vibrancy and activity. We have upgraded the common areas, library, and dining room. The range and quality of medical care and services is par excellence. Nowhere else can a resident find such a range of services on site. There’s also a very active life-enrichment programme and a thriving shul onsite. Overseas donors have been generous in upgrading our facilities, while the local community’s generosity covers the day to day running costs.”

Tomson notes that the SG campus uses several hundred thousand of litres of water per day, and the Chev has invested in back-up water supplies and capacity for water outages. It has also invested in alternative energy. Nearly 1 000 people live on the SG campus and another almost 1 000 work there, “so it remains the hub of Jewish Johannesburg, with no greater concentration of people. That’s why we’re investing in its sustainability. Seventy percent of what we do is provide services that the elderly or needy should get from  government,” he says.

“Operating at full capacity makes a lot of sense, keeps costs down, and improves the quality of care,” Tomson says. “We should be thinking like this in all sectors. Communities always evolve. It doesn’t mean this is the end. Many thousands of Jews live here, and I believe we’re going to run for decades.

“We need to accept the demographics and acknowledge the strength of a community that’s cohesive. We have strong leadership and a committed, supportive community that can achieve what we need by proactively planning with courage and conviction. Young people may leave, but the elderly, indigent and those with disabilities people aren’t going anywhere. For many, we’re their family and support system. We won’t let them down.”

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Jeanette Bank

    May 19, 2022 at 12:44 pm

    My late mom Sonia Salminis had some wonderful years there!!It actually extended her quality of life and years!!!
    Thank you to all
    Best wishes
    Jeanette Bank
    Durban

  2. Gail

    May 19, 2022 at 12:50 pm

    What there is a need for is a good Jewish life-rights complex which allows residents to have a pet or two (if the pets are small). I’m sure there are a lot of people who want to downsize and are fully capable of looking after themselves who would be interested. A pity Our Parents’ Home isn’t being repurposed for something like that.

  3. Helen Blumenfeld

    May 20, 2022 at 5:50 pm

    Quite sad; as a young child I visited my grandmother Rose Harris-Katz frequently; she was well known especially for her efforts at saving water:when the young kids turned on the water fountain to drink–she would shout at them for not turning off the water —-wastage of water she would chide them ! And for me the apple mousse was my best dessert when I was lucky enough to stay for lunch at OPH ! Today I am an old lady of 75— so my memories of her are almost as old as I am. Pity the land cant be used for a modern retirement village— little cottages on a life rights basis. Its so central, and many of the existing ones are far out.
    In fond memory
    Helen Blumenfeld

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