Florence Center for Living a Hub for MS/ALS Care, Fundraising

Steve Saling – a resident of the Florence Center’s Saling House for adults with ALS – gives a tour of his home and the Center on Monday to a group of riders participating in a fund-raising ride for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Many of the participants in the ride had been diagnosed with MS or knew someone who had. The tour coincides with a highly-touted fund-raising walk for MS and ALS on Admiral’s Hill this Sunday.

One doesn’t have to venture very far into the Leonard Florence Center for Living to see that it is a top-notch elder care facility, but venturing just a bit further into the facility reveals that it is also one of the most innovative care facilities for those with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

On the week of the major fund-raising walk for MS and ALS slated to take place around the facility on Admiral’s Hill – a walk that is quickly gaining a positive reputation all over Greater Boston and which has some major sponsors – the home quietly hosted about 30 fund-raising bicycle riders on Monday for an intimate tour showing just what those riders were riding for.

Riders participating in the MS Society’s Great 8 Ride filed into the Chelsea home on Admiral’s Hill just after 5 p.m. on Monday – after riding some 50 miles that day.

The Great 8 Ride started in Portland, ME last Saturday and will continue through eight states before finishing next week in New Jersey. As part of that ride, the participants visit exceptional facilities and service locations supported by the MS Society.

The visit to Chelsea was especially poignant for ride organizer Mike Zimits, who has lived with MS for the past 14 years, and was moved to see the advances in care that provide so much dignity for those with MS.

“I think for us as riders, it’s important to see where the money we’re raising is going and what the MS community is trying to accomplish with it,” he told the assembled crowd, many who were moved to tears after visiting with residents at the Florence. “People with MS want to live their lives; they want to enjoy themselves. They don’t want to be confined to saying ‘no’ or ‘I can’t.’ That’s what we’ve seen here – people who are trying things a different way. Whatever lies down the road for me or anyone else with MS, we know now we don’t have to be stuck in a corner.”

What the Florence has done that few other facilities have done is create the first Green House in an urban setting. A Green House is a facility where 10 or so residents congregate in a living community that focuses on the residents and not the caregivers. Residents live in rooms that they design and use cutting-edge technology to remain very independent.

There are no nurses stations.

They can sleep as late as they want and go to bed as late as they want.

There is no institutional dining room, but a separate dining room for each “house” – complete with a menu designed by residents.

The door to each “house” looks like the front door of a home, and the waiting area outside by the elevator even has traditional house siding, a mailbox and a doorbell. Using centralized technology, residents who are restricted in movement can open doors and speak via computer.

At the Florence, two of those homes are the Saling House for those with ALS, and the Slifka House for residents with MS.

Officials from the MS Society told the Record they have committed to helping the Slifka House continue in the long term, and riders such as those visiting last Monday directly help that commitment – as do walkers who will participate in Sunday’s MS/ALS walk.

“We have a 20-year commitment to continue the house here and we work with all the folks here at the Florence to ensure that happens,” said Joel Richards of the MS Society.

Betsy Mullen from the Florence explained the history of the Slifka House to the riders, saying it was born out of a desire to better serve all their populations.

“We took a look at the populations we weren’t serving well and that including young disabled individuals who had severe physical limitations but whose minds were as sharp as ours and, thus, they had a hard time living on an institutional schedule,” she said. “One of the first populations we starting working with on this innovative model was that of people with MS.”

As an example, riders were treated to a guided tour by Steve Saling – a landscape architect who has ALS and was instrumental in designing the technology in the Saling House.

Though Saling used to go fishing, mountain climbing and other athletic pursuits, ALS has made him have to use a wheelchair and speak through a computer.

One would think that would hamper his independence and quality of life.

Those who do should think again.

Saling gave a tour of the dining hall, the cafe, the deli, the kitchen in his “house” and his room – where he showed off technology enabling him to independently use the bathroom, watch TV and do just about anything else.

Many were moved by his positive attitude.

Some even wept when they saw just how the improved quality of life for these disabled adults left them with enduring smiles and positive attitudes.

While they watched SportsCenter on Saling’s flat-screen TV in his room, he told the riders that he is experiencing cutting edge independence for an adult with ALS.

“It is my home and it is my pleasure to live here,” he told them through a computer-aided speaking program. “All this helps me to have a level of independence previously unknown to people like me. When I was diagnosed, I was told to get my affairs in order. I don’t think they meant this kind of order you see in my room. What they meant was something else, but I think you can all agree that my affairs here are certainly pretty well in order.”

That was followed by loud applause and the sincere movement of every rider’s heart.

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