A visit to Nightingale House on Sunday, 19th June 2011.

Report by Rica Infante, Vice Chairman of Sutton & District Synagogue, on a visit by Reverend Meir Lev and members of the Board of Management to Nightingale House on Sunday, 19 June 2011


Following a successful “Question Time” fund-raising Evening, representatives of Sutton & District Synagogue visited Nightingale House on Sunday, 19 June 2011 to make an official presentation of a £1,000 cheque on behalf of the synagogue’s sub-committee Sutton Combined Charities.  We were met by Mr. Leon Smith, Chief Executive Officer and Mrs Ruby Fernandes, Head of Fundraising, who gave us an excellent insight into Nightingale’s current set-up followed by a tour of the premises.


Nightingale, the biggest holistic and quality care home in Britain , (they currently cater for 200 elderly Jewish residents) will soon become even larger following a proposed merger with Hammerson House based in North London .  Nightingale’s Grade II listed building located in South West London was donated by Lord Wandsworth in 1904.  It costs £11.5m per annum to run the Home and the monies are put to excellent use – everything looks superbly refurbished and impeccably maintained. 


We were shown the construction site of a new Dementia Wing which will be inaugurated in two weeks time and house forty residents, twenty on each floor at a total cost of £7 million.  Provision has also been made for the building of a new synagogue that follows the Singer prayer book and US ritual.  Leon Smith explained that 90% of their capital funded campaigns are sourced from major donors.  The cost of residential care at Nightingale currently ranges from £830 per week for residents needing a lower level of care to £1,100 per week for those that require 24 hour supervision.    It was explained to us that the only people who may be eligible for support from a local authority are those whose assets are under £23,250.  Even then there is no guarantee that the local authority will support.    If somebody owns a property and one of the spouses needs to come into a home but the other wishes to continue living in the house, they can do so but ultimately the local authority will recover their own costs from the estate with the spouse continuing to live in the house.


At Nightingale, care is split into five types and is overseen by a staff of 320:  reasonably active residents with no dementia (and there is a short waiting list in this grouping); reasonably active residents with dementia; residents in between having dementia and requiring nursing; residents that require heavy nursing and those that require heavy nursing with severe dementia. 


There is also a GP practice for residents funded by the Primary Care Trust and they also offer short respite care for convalescence after hospital or to give short breaks to carers over a couple of weeks.   Each resident’s room has an en-suite shower and there is also a separate bathroom with hoists for the bath and toilet per ten residents’ rooms.   Leon Smith mentioned that male residents are in the minority - seventy five percent are female.


We were shown around the following facilities:


·         A Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy room: even frail residents are encouraged to exercise gently.  The equipment included a special treadmill, parallel bars, a bicycle with adapted chair, stairs and a trampoline!

·         A fully equipped dental clinic

·         An Activities centre split into sections for cookery classes, computers and discussion groups run by volunteers (there are 175 volunteers in all at Nightingale)

·         A bingo room, hairdressing salon which is open every working day and a concert hall

·         The Library which hosts the Edwina Currie Book Club where authors come to discuss their books with the residents

·         A snooker room that doubles up as a succah – the glass ceiling slides open and a shakh roof is put in place

·         Stimulating activities include talks by celebrities and outings on a mini-bus to theatres and places of interest.

  Much care and research planning has gone into the interior design of the whole infrastructure which beams with luminous colours, light and striking art work to stimulate the mind and aid residents physically.  Even the cloakroom facilities have been thoughtfully designed with bright red toilet seats.  The resident rooms are being upgraded on a continual basis.


As a registered charity, Nightingale looks for funding from all sources and has a department dedicated to fundraising headed by Ruby Fernandes.  At the moment they have several projects that require funding including an upgrade to the existing kitchen which albeit spotlessly clean showed signs of ageing.


Whilst walking around we met some residents who were very happy there and in the T.V. lounge we were privileged to speak to the renowned Yiddish actress Anna Tzelniker who is now a resident.  Ms. Tzelniker worked for many years in both mainstream and Yiddish theatre.  She has played many roles including in the West End Stage production of Fiddler on the Roof.     


In a climate where the media often highlights the plight of the elderly in many residential care homes in Britain , a visit to Nightingale is by far a gratifying experience.  It is patently evident that Leon Smith is a hands-on CEO.  He has been working there for 38 years and knows most of the residents by their first name.  They in turn know him and stop to chat with him.  One can sense satisfaction and contentment in their faces.


Our visit was a most interesting and gratifying experience of the best that Judaism can offer and may Nightingale continue to offer the invaluable service it currently offers elderly Jews from all walks of life for many years to come.

From left to right:

Vice Chair Rica Infante

CEO of Nightingale House, Leon Smith

Reverend Meir Lev

SCC Chairman Gerald Cohen

Board Member Mickey Fels

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