After working on children’s puzzles in a sunny day room, with a breeze from a courtyard garden, the small group of elderly men and women prepare for lunch.
The four residents at the upscale Sanitasole, the only assisted-living facility in Marco Island, and the dozen or so others who come for the adult day program share a large table for the hot meal of veal parmigiana, pasta and vegetables.
Paula Camposano Robinson, who co-owns the center with her husband, Richard, nudges them to interact. One struggles with the pasta.
“Roll it on the fork, kiddo,” she demonstrates. “You can do it.”
She starts a video of the “Dean Martin Variety Show” on a large projection screen.
“It’s one of their favorites,” she said.
Keeping the elders engaged every day is critical; so is being upbeat with them. All have varying degrees of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, besides their physical impairments.
“The biggest work is acceptance of their limitations and not making it a negative. Then they do better,” said Richard Robinson, Paula’s husband and co-owner of the center.
Some of the residents like doing small tasks around the center, which gives them a sense of accomplishment.
“All of us want to make a contribution,” he said.
Robinson and his wife opened the three-story Sanitasole, which looks more like a beachfront mansion, in 2008 with the adult day care program.
The 10-bed ALF debuted in December. It also has an extended congregate care license to provide nursing care so the residents can remain at Sanitasole, which becomes their home.
“Between 94 and 98 percent of all residents can remain here until they die,” he said. “A small number will have to go to skilled nursing.”
As lunch is being served, Dave Kocourek, 73, quietly sings the fight song for the University of Wisconsin, where he played football before going pro with the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders. Camposano Robinson joins him in what is a frequent sing-along.
When asked what position he played, he says tight end.
“I had the tightest end you’ve ever seen,” he said, a joke the others have heard before.
Tom Woolaway joins him in singing the Wisconsin fight song, even though he was a Penn State man. He has the nickname “Tom Tom the atom bomb,” a take off from a Perry Como song.
Woolaway, who said he is in his “high 70s,” was in the U.S. Navy. When asked how he got the nickname, he considers his response.
“It’s a secret,” he said with a grin.
Don Goetzmann, 78, comes for the day program two days a week.
“You meet interesting people here,” he said. “And the (employees) here are very attentive and helpful.”
The Robinsons’ previous careers gave them the insights for operating an assisted living facility.
He is a former hospital administrator with Hospital Corporation of America, HCA, among other executive positions within the health care industry. Camposano Robinson had a 28-year nursing career with the NCH Healthcare System that included serving as clinical and executive director of Marco Healthcare Center.
“You have to have a deep sense of compassion and you can’t be judgmental,” Richard Robinson said of running an ALF. “If you really don’t love what you do here, this is not for you. These people know in a minute if you don’t care about them individually. They will do anything for you if you are not judgemental.”
The couple did a feasibility study about opening an ALF in 1991 with the conclusion that Marco Island couldn’t support one then. They came back to their plans in 2005, after the market had evolved.
Over a 20-year span, several private developers had considered opening an ALF in Marco but abandoned their plans for one reason or another, he said.
After opening the adult day program, family of some clients asked when they would go the next step with the assisted living facility. Initially, the couple planned a five-year time frame.
“We were pushed up two years ahead of schedule, which is good (because) we could meet the need,” he said.
The 10 one-bedroom, one-bath units are on the second floor; the couple live on the third floor.
“We have four beds filled, three reserved and three remain,” he said. “We anticipate in five months we will be filled up.”
Their market includes Collier Boulevard/U.S. 41 E. area as well as the island.
“Most people in an ALF are within a 25-minute driving range from their home,” he said.
The price range is $3,100 to $4,100 a month for the basic residential program, medication management, nursing care, activities and amenities. There are extra fees for residents who need higher levels of care. The adult day program runs $113 to $135 for an 11-hour day; the hot lunch and two snacks is additional.
Mindful of the aging baby boomer population and limitations of distant or nearby caregivers, expanding the ALF is on the horizon.
“Nobody is trained to be a 24/7 caregiver,” Camposano Robinson said. “Nobody can do it.”
For certain, an institutional atmosphere that exists at some larger ALF’s, with a maze of hallways and a dining room that can seat a crowd, will not be in the game plan. Sanitasole will be expanded with smaller “pods,” he said.
The institutional setting contributes to anxiety, while the more intimate setting, with a familiar staff, is something they can handle.
“The staff know these people,” he said, referring to his 13 employees. “To a great extent these clients are like our children who need continuity and consistency because they become anxious when they get older.”
With their rooms on the second floor but all activities on the ground floor, the residents must leave their rooms, unlike what can happen in larger ALF’s, she said.
“The more engaged they stay, the more they will do,” she said. “You try to make every day a positive day.”
More on Sanitasole
Address: 218 S. Barfield Drive, Marco Island
Phone: (239) 389-6100