Transformative bequest enables advanced dementia care

Arlene and Selwyn Greenhill, Roy Abrahams, and Eleanor and Raoul Miller

By Mathilde Tomson-Myburgh, Highlands House Marketing & Communications Officer
Photos: Yolande Kretzmer-Keys

Highlands House celebrated the grand opening of its new Memory Care Unit (MCU) on 07 May 2023, with a delightful gathering attended by over 80 individuals closely connected to the home and its services. 

The unit is named after the late Florrie Chiat, a generous benefactor who supported the project, and dedicated in honour of her late parents, Abraham and Naomi Chiat. The event was a remarkable success, featuring heartfelt messages from Executive Director Leon Geffen, President Stuart Hendler, and Florrie Chiat’s nephew, Jeffrey Perlman.

Despite leaving Cape Town over 70 years ago, Florrie maintained a strong bond with her hometown and the well-being of the Cape Jewish community, particularly the elderly residents of Highlands House. Her lifelong commitment to serving the Jewish community worldwide led her to leave a substantial bequest to Highlands House in her estate. You can find more about her inspiring story in another section of this edition.

In addition, the family of Rachel Velkes, especially her daughter, Dawn Beerman, also deserves gratitude for their generous contribution, which funded the Rachel Velkes Visitors Lounge and the en-suite room adjacent to it, completing this special new unit.

Highlands House, established in 1916, is celebrating its 107th anniversary this year. The building that hosted the event, and now accommodates the new development, was opened in 1948.

Reflecting on the milestone, Executive Director Leon Geffen expressed, “Seventy-five years later, we are still proud to be here, and our vision is to become a world-class facility. We continuously strive for excellence, and this commitment permeates our entire organisation. It is not merely a tagline but a goal we are successfully achieving.

“Our care model and its outstanding outcomes have garnered extensive recognition, both locally and internationally. We have joined a consortium of care homes in North America, including prestigious institutions such as Baycrest Centre Toronto, Schlegel Villages Ontario, Hebrew Senior Life Boston, Westminster Communities Florida, and San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living. This consortium represents the largest and most reputable care facilities in North America. We take pride in being the only non-American and the sole South African facility benchmarking our care against such international standards. Despite operating in a resource-limited country with fewer funds and skills than our counterparts in the US and Canada, we are proud to provide a comparable level of care. We aim to serve as a beacon of light for our colleagues across the country.”

Leon emphasised that the development of the new Memory Care Unit adhered to the best available guidelines, considering the challenges posed by the 75-year-old building. While the redevelopment presented its obstacles, it is believed that this unit will be the most desirable facility in Cape Town for providing care to individuals living with dementia.

“In designing this unit, we have been mindful that, as one’s cognition declines, so does one’s ability to perform daily tasks such as washing, dressing, grooming, using the toilet, moving around, eating, and getting out of bed. Our care goals are centred around maximising each resident’s functional ability, focusing on their individual needs, ensuring their safety, and providing a dignified and fulfilling life.”

Over 75% of Highlands House residents face financial constraints, making it impossible for them to afford the full cost of care. However, the organisation takes pride in not differentiating care based on affordability. To continue serving all members of the community regardless of their financial means, it is essential to cover the actual cost of care. Highlands House needs more benefactors like Florrie Chiat, both locally and abroad.

Leon acknowledged the profound impact of dementia, stating, “Dementia is not a single disease; it has multiple causes, with Alzheimer’s being the most common. Dementia results in the destruction of brain tissue, the loss of memory, the loss of function and personality changes. It affects the person, the family, their friends and all relationships the person has. We take the words of William Osler to heart: ‘To know the patient who has the disease is more important than to know the disease the patient has.’ We know every person, irrespective of their disease. We cannot cure, but we can relieve often. We strive to comfort and care always. I do hope that by doing this, we can truly honour Florrie Chiat’s legacy.”

Highlands House

• Published in the June 2023 issue – Click here to start reading.

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