Hebrew Home offers new light for low-vision residents


Thanks to a gift from philanthropist Sonia Jaye, the Hebrew Home at Riverdale has become the first nursing home in the nation to include a special unit for low-vision residents.

“When Sonia came to the Hebrew Home, she had a vision about vision. And her vision was to create a place unlike any other place in the country that we know of that would support people with low vision—help them hold onto the vision that they have, and if possible, even to get better,” Hebrew Home President and CEO Daniel Reingold said at a dedication ceremony this month for the Sonia Jaye and Edward Barsukov Low Vision Center, housed on the seventh floor of the home’s Resnick Pavilion.

“This was not just a generous benefactor who had a fleeting idea of something,” Reingold continued. “Sonia rolled up her sleeves and got intimately involved with every aspect of the design.”

Jaye spoke briefly at a luncheon following a ribbon-cutting and tour of the unit. “I chose the Hebrew Home because of the care and service it provides and the great reputation it has. So I would like to thank Dan Reingold and the Hebrew Home for allowing me to share in this venture, and I pray that our efforts will be blessed with great success.”

Jaye brought in lighting expert Patricia Rizzo, the design program manager at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Lighting Research Center.

Rizzo was able to apply not only her expertise in lighting for low-vision users but also her knowledge of interior design. She has tackled lighting on submarines, where the absence of natural light disrupts sleep-wake cycles and other bodily functions. In her design for the center, she specified fixtures that expose residents to beneficial wavelengths and optimize the impact of light on their circadian rhythms.

Another issue is glare, an obstacle for those with vision problems. Rizzo called for anti-glare measures including matte-finish surfaces.

“We want to be able to present this at a conference, write up a paper and hopefully make it a model for low-vision centers,” she said.

Robin Dessel, director of memory care services at the home, played a leading role in the project.

During her tour, she pointed out the molding-enhanced walls, painted in muted, low-contrast hues and outfitted with user-friendly fixtures.

“What is beyond masterful is that some of this lighting is motion-sensor operated, so that in the middle of the night when someone gets out of bed, they’re not struggling to search for a light source,” she said. One of the bathroom lights is even amber-colored so that people can find their way without getting “jarred out of a sound sleep but are able to navigate their way safely to utilize the facilities.”

“The bottom line is: we’re trying to address both the functional and the emotional needs of any human being. If you think about it, this is something that we would all value and treasure, regardless of age, regardless of life circumstances.”

Of the nearly 900 beds in the home’s 20 different floors or “neighborhoods”—each with its own identity and dining area—the new unit’s 28 rooms will accommodate between 45 and 48 residents. Now that a year’s worth of construction is done, some low-vision residents living elsewhere in the facility will move into the new space.

The environment will be therapeutic in a holistic way, including a nutritional component geared toward vision improvement. But residents may also need support for conditions other than visual impairment.

“The understanding at this point is that any older adult coming into this setting is going to have compound issues. So there can be other conditions, other physical ailments that are part of who they are. The low-vision piece is the number-one indicator for placement on a floor like that, but we’re also not segregating people with low vision.

“Nobody is defined by a disease,” Dessel stressed.

“We’re hoping to establish relationships with organizations in the community who work with adults with low vision in the hope that they understand there is a place to come if you can no longer negotiate community living. And a beautiful place to come, at that.”

Residents will be sighted to some extent, so they’ll be able to discern some of that beauty—perhaps even the unobstructed view of the Hudson River outside their windows.

Honorary guest speakers at the dedication luncheon were former Governor David Paterson and state Senator Jeffrey D.  Klein.

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