In the early 1980’s, the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi in Milwaukee were successfully providing care for retired and frail members of their community of retired Sisters. One of the younger members, Sr. Edna Lonergan, who was the director of rehabilitation for the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi at St. Ann Health Center, was especially interested in providing dignified care to the frail elderly of the wider Milwaukee community with the same kind of compassion she witnessed being provided to the Sisters.
Sr. Edna held degrees in Nursing, Occupational Therapy, and Gerontology, and during her course of studies had heard a lecture on adult day care. This lecture, which had made a lasting impression on her, focused on providing home-based services for the elderly. Because the mission of the Sisters was to reach out in service to the needy, she believed that it was possible to fulfill this mission by making adult day services available to members of the broader community. In January 1983, St. Ann Adult Day Care opened its doors in the remodeled trunk room in the basement of the Sister’s St. Ann Health Center (now Juniper Court).
As word spread throughout the community, new clients began to apply and were accepted. While most of the clients were frail elders, the new center also welcomed adults under 60 who had developmental, physical, or cognitive disabilities. For the convenience of the clients, the center also offered physical, occupational and speech therapies, plus a wide array of individualized activities.
In 1990, the first outpatient rehabilitation clinic offering physical and occupational therapy was created in St. Francis Hall. It was directed by a registered occupational therapist. Prior to this time, the program had included a free clinic which was open once a week which offered older adults in the community minimal therapeutic care and non-skilled care such as foot massages and pedicures. In the mid-1990s, the clinic also became Medicare certified.
In 1994, Sr. Edna inaugurated the center’s A La Carte program. Whirlpool baths, hair care, nail care, rehabilitation services, and massages were offered by appointment. Sometimes, funding sources paid for these services, or they were paid by individuals who paid what they could afford. At other times, the whole cost was absorbed–for even as St. Ann Center struggled financially (“getting by on a shoestring,” Sr. Edna sometimes joked) we had never turned anyone away for inability to pay. It was the goal of St. Ann Center then, as it remains today, to provide clients with the opportunity to maintain dignity and quality of life.
With this in mind, in 1996, Sr. Edna and Cindy Becker MSW (later Schmidt) co-authored and published their book, Benevolent Touch: For Persons with Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Related Dementias. This 50-page book, complete with instructions and photographs, represented the culmination of a modified approach to massage which Sr. Edna developed over a number of years in order to center and calm agitated clients. Through a series of workshops and demonstrations, Sr. Edna began to provide practical training for caregivers who could then use its techniques in a variety of settings, both professional and at home, for their own loved ones. As the book states, “Benevolent Touch, when applied appropriately, can minimize some of the ravaging effects of Alzheimer’s disease and sensory decline. The theory behind Benevolent Touch is that even though the mind deteriorates, the body, often still healthy, remembers. Touch conveying love, trust, affection and warmth will help them to feel, on a subconscious level, that they are in a safe and loving place…Verbal communication is difficult if not impossible as the disease progresses.”
By the time St. Ann Center started offering A La Carte services, the need for more expansion began to become apparent. The regular adult day service clients, expanding service to persons with dementia, along with the new day care A La Carte program, brought more and more requests for service. Due to space restrictions for 60 clients, St. Ann Adult Day Care was no longer able to grow in response to the needs of those seeking services. Gradually, the idea of building a new day center began to evolve, but this time it would include children.
For years, Sr. Edna Lonergan had witnessed the beneficial effects of bringing generations together. Whenever staff members brought their children or grandchildren to the center, the presence of children brought new life to the clients and to the atmosphere of the center itself. “Our expansion plans should include intergenerational care,” was Sr. Edna’s position. Thus began her commitment to launch an intergenerational day services center. Needs assessments and feasibility studies had to be complete to demonstrate the need in the community for intergenerational care, as well as to assess St. Ann Center’s ability to raise the necessary funds. The presence of children brought new life to the clients and to the center itself.
A New St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care
In 1995, St. Ann Adult Day Care was incorporated as the newest of the eight corporate ministries sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. During that same year, a needs assessment was carried out which clarified the need for an intergenerational program. A collaborative effort among businesses, government, foundations, volunteers and St. Ann Center staff resulted in a strategic plan to guide the decisions during this time of transition. In 1996, the board of directors under the chairmanship of Marty Stein, retired businessman and philanthropist, established a capital campaign cabinet co-chaired by himself and Dan Meehan. Under this capable leadership, the capital campaign was launched to raise funds for the new facility. In 1996, architectural plans were drawn by Mr. Tadhg McInerney of Architecture 2000.
The ground-breaking ceremony for the new facility took place and construction began in 1997 on a parcel of land leased for $1 from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The official name of the facility was changed from St. Ann Adult Day Care to St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care to reflect the additional services and age groups it would include in its services. Throughout 1998, intergenerational planning committees prepared for the new center.
In January of 1999, St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care opened its doors to receive children and frail elders and adult clients under 60 years of age. The new center included in its array of services, child and adult day services that integrated programs for all ages and abilities, wheelchair accessible bathtubs, certified outpatient rehabilitation (occupational, physical and speech therapies), a warm-water wheelchair accessible pool, full-time nurse on duty, a hair and nail salon, retail shops and pastoral services. The holistic approach to day services was designed to include the body, mind and spirit of the clients while also serving as a wellness center with several of its services open to the public.
As part of St. Ann Center’s changes in 1999, the former adult day services facility located in the lower level of St. Francis Convent was remodeled and renamed Shepherd House. This facility would serve as the newly expanded program for those challenged with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. They would find there a more secure, nurturing environment adapted to their illnesses.
During 2000, massage therapy was added to the list of A La Carte services. In 2001, the center made a concerted effort to include persons with disabilities in its services, many of whom had been on a waiting list. The center began providing services for people covered by Milwaukee County’s Family Care program. This program, funded by federal and state money, provided care for qualifying citizens of Milwaukee County.
In 2002, a new Senior Wellness Unit was created by remodeling an under-utilized section of the out-patient rehabilitation department on the second floor of the west wing. In addition, three new child care classrooms were opened without exterior expansion of the building. This was accomplished by remodeling available space on the first floor of the existing child care section.
Before the new center opened in 1999, its program averaged 40 adults per day. By the end of 2002, it had grown to include an average of 100 adult clients and 66 children per day. The total number of staff at both sites increased from 69 to over 100 during this same period. A great deal of this growth was due to the participation of a loyal corps of approximately 130 volunteers who contributed over 12,000 hours of service in fundraising, events, day-to-day operations in retail, office activities, assisting clients at mealtime , upkeep of the building, grounds and gardening.
In August of 2002, St. Ann Center inaugurated a CMU (Case Management Unit) on site. It started with 46 enrolled members and was staffed by two social workers and a registered nurse. The CMU assesses a person’s needs and finds the supportive services that allow the person to continue to live at home. The Family Care program pays for these services. Since its beginning the number of new and ongoing clients continued to increase.
In April 2002, Sr. Edna was invited by Archbishop Renato Martino, Papal Nuncio to the United Nations, to serve on the Vatican’s delegation to the second U.N. World Assembly on Aging in Madrid, Spain. At the conference, Archbishop Martino highlighted St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care as a model of community-based services.
From October 21 to November 11, 2005, Sr. Edna Lonergan took part in a delegation traveling to several cities in the People’s Republic of China, including Beijing. The delegates on this trip met with international colleagues in roundtable discussions, panel sessions and site visits. Sr. Edna shared information about the innovative, interactive services developed by St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care. She also learned about Chinese efforts in this same field and studied first-hand some of the contradictions arising as time-honored traditions and modern life in China faced the challenge of the largest population of any nation and the impact this has on family structure, how the generations interact, and the services that are available.
Overnight Respite and Alzheimer’s Care
On April 5, 2006, Sr. Edna Lonergan, board members, guests, staff, clients, and the public officially broke ground to “fulfill the dream” of building a new respite center. The overnight program allows caregivers to leave their loved ones in a secure, nurturing setting while they take care of business or take a much-needed vacation or rest for themselves. The respite program provides lodging, meals, bathing and daily activities for 9 persons. Stays are possible from one night to 21 days.
In December of 2010, Shepherd House moved from the convent on South Lake Drive to a roomy unit on the Stein Campus. This gave clients easier access to the swimming pool, art program, hair and nail salon, therapy department, and many other activities that take place at St. Ann Center.
“We wanted to make a dream into a reality, a place where young and old care for one another and learn from one another. We are deeply grateful for the many generous donations though the years from so many kind and caring friends–individuals, organizations, and foundations–all of whom have made the services and therapies which the center provides a wonderful reality,” says Sr. Edna. “True to our Franciscan tradition, we continue to value those individuals whom society tends to overlook–those who are vulnerable or marginalized because they are young, frail or challenged with disabilities. Each one of our clients is an extraordinary gift, who gives us the will and courage to continue with our mission through their own powerful example.”
At both of St. Ann Center’s campuses, generations grow and learn together in a beautiful, inspirational setting. You truly have to see it to believe it!