Mary Pope-Handy 408 204-7673

Have you ever thought about how you might like to spend your elderly years, should you want or need to be in a seniors facility?  I have been blessed to have many, many relatives live long lives and most of them lived in independent living, assisted living, or skilled nursing at some point.  Some of the very best places were Catholic; it is a real blessing when there is excellent care for seniors and those needing long term care and it’s also a Catholic community.

My grandparents enjoyed living at Dominican Oaks in Santa Cruz for a number of years, close to a decade. It’s a Catholic retirement community for independent seniors (not those needing assisted living or nursing care). Close to Dominican Hospital, and thus also to good medical care, this community also offered daily Mass and was a magnet for Catholics retiring in the Santa Cruz area. I recall seeing many older sisters, brothers, priests, and even a bishop back in the 1990s there. It was my first exposure to Catholic retirement residences, and I thought it did a good job.  The only shortcoming, that I could see, is that there was no advanced care available, so many seniors could not move there and simply stay put.

Unfortunately I saw this downside upfront.  Since it didn’t offer multiple levels of care, when my grandmother became very ill, Dominican Oaks essentially kicked them out.  That was a sad day for my dying grandmother as well as for the rest of the clan. How much easier it would have been had Dominican Oaks had a license for more advanced care (or applied to the state for a waiver, which we later learned was an option).  My grandparents moved to Aegis of Aptos for a few weeks.   That was heartbreaking as my grandmother kept asking to “go home”.

After her passing, my grandfather later moved “over the hill” into Santa Clara County to be nearer to several family members, yours truly included.  He lived for a little while at Villa Fontana in west San Jose, and then longer at Saratoga Retirement Community.  Eventually, though, he also needed nursing care and the best place seemed to be Mercy Care & Retirement Center in Oakland.  This is another Catholic institution and although the grounds & neighborhood are not beautiful, the personal care sure is.  In fact, they have been noted nationally as one of the best retirement centers in the U.S.  That’s not a surprise – the people who work there genuinely care about the residents.  It’s not just a job for them, it’s a vocation.

Mercy Care & Retirement Center does offer multiple levels of care, everything from independent to assisted living to nursing.  What’s nice for the residents is that if they move there, they really do not have to move again.  If they have some sort of incident and end up in nursing or rehab, it’s on the same campus.  Their friends can visit with them without needing a bus or a ride.

I’d love to see something like that here in the Diocese of San Jose.  We have a few Catholic nursing homes and a few places which offer assisted living and nursing (such as Our Lady of Fatima in Saratoga), but none which provide independent, assisted, nursing and also memory care.  Certainly nothing very large, either.

We have 600,000 Catholics in Santa Clara County.  I keep thinking that it would be great to have a place for our elderly to retire and be supported in their faith, be able to be part of a Catholic community if they like, and to have meaningful relationships and volunteer work to perform.

One of the challenges for seniors is being alienated when they can no longer drive.  I would love to see a Catholic seniors residence in the heart of Silicon Valley – maybe near O’Connor Hospital and St. Martin’s parish, for instance.  It would be a great place for a Catholic retirement and care facility – accessible to all kinds of good things, including the airport for family members who want to come visit.

What do you think?  Is Silicon Valley ready for a substantial Catholic retirement community?  I think it is.