Stop in at the Queen Bee Cafe opposite Safeway and have a coffee and delectable snack, then head next door and check out The Mercantile, a gift shop out of the ordinary in its décor. Both opened in recent months, and both are part of Aegis on Madison, the new assisted living community that opened its doors Valentine’s Day and gained its first resident four days later. There are now 60 people living there, about 40% of them men, a higher ratio than in most such places, and they range in age from 61 to 101.
The Queen Bee Cafe Pastry Case.
“We have room for 104,” says general manager Rob Liebreich, who clearly loves his job and talks about the facility with pride and pleasure. As he takes me around, he greets every resident we meet by name, wishing one a happy birthday, and also all the staff, from housekeepers to therapist. We are greeted back with smiles.
Aegis is working itself quickly into our Madison Valley community. Neighborhood groups from the YMCA to Planned Parenthood hold meetings here in the private dining room that looks like a very posh restaurant and has a wine cave with lockers for the residents. Seattle University students have come by to conduct oral histories, and Holy Names students volunteer here.
Aegis' private dining room.
“Aegis is a for-profit company, but with a philanthropic side,” explains Liebreich. “All the profits from the Queen Bee and The Mercantile go to nonprofits. For our first quarter, we gave $500 to the YMCA, for the second they’ll go to the Hearing and Speech Center up the road. Childhaven brings their kids and we welcome them and make things for them. Just now we have a quilting club. We make things to give back to the world.”
Every Saturday morning, the marquee over the little theater announces a matinee movie for neighborhood kids. “Frozen” was a recent showing.
Aegis’ parent company was started in Redmond 17 years ago by Dwayne Clark, after seeing his grandmother in a facility he felt he could improve on. There are now 30 Aegis facilities with the majority—14—in the greater Seattle area and five more planned. One, to be located in Newcastle, is intended to serve the Asian community.
“When Dwayne Clark’s mother needed Alzheimer’s care, she lived for ten years in an Aegis in Kirkland,” says Liebreich. “It’s one thing to work for an owner who understands from a business level, and quite another to work for someone who understands from the inside, on an intimate level. It’s a really innovative company. They don’t follow the rules, they want to go well beyond them.”
He points out that the comfortable chairs in the spacious lobby are specifically designed with arm rests and cushion depth and resilience for maximum ease for the residents, and the enclosed garden on the dementia floor with its 1956 Thunderbird and old gas station in the corner. All Aegis dementia floors have a garden, but this one was designed with input from Disney to make people feel comfortable in an era they remember. One resident having lunch proudly told us she had been washing the car that morning, while others had picked the blueberries they were growing and then made muffins.
The Life Neighborbood Patio, with 1956 Thunderbird and blueberry bushes.
The residents’ rooms or suites on all five floors are lit by large windows for maximum natural light, while those on the dementia floor also have motion sensors so staff can quickly tell if someone is restless or needs help, and a second sensor that turns on a bathroom light when it senses someone moving in that direction at night.
“People’s dignity is the overriding element in what we do, then safety, then enrichment,” says Liebreich. Quality shows in the attention to myriad details, such as the restaurant with a four-star ambience, always serving freshly prepared food. Another is the beautiful little quiet room, the Conservatory, on the dementia floor. Quietly lit, no windows, the walls painted pale blue with vines and birds on them, a faint lavender scent and gentle bird song, it’s designed to help someone feel less agitated.
As of now there are 64 staff working in shifts, many local and about 50% of them care staff, including three full-time RNs. Liebreich is currently recruiting a fourth. “We’re affiliated with the University of Washington Medical Center,” he says, “and our medical director comes in every couple of weeks regularly and more if necessary, visiting residents in their rooms. He’s just added a nurse practitioner so his office can be more responsive.” He goes on, “We don’t structure staff numbers on ratio but on needs. We have a number who need two-person support. As of now we are trying to make sure we have 16 hours of nursing supervision daily, eventually it will be 24 hours. We’ll need that if we have a lot of diabetic management.”
Not everyone at Aegis needs that kind of care. Many just need a bit of help, others are high need, but people can stay at Aegis until they die, and it has hospice care.
“Regarding medications,” says Liebreich, “we are working with Bastyr to find non-pharmacological solutions, like chamomile tea to soothe at night, or ginger tea for stomach upsets. We want to come off over-medicating, and this year we will have our own Bastyr clinic.”
Quite a few people have pets and there are even pet walkers to give residents a hand walking their animals as needed. There are five full-time enrichment staff for the dozens of indoor and out-and-about activities, including a horticultural therapist and a master gardener, and are about to be joined by another with a music therapy background.
The Sports Den in the basement is where everyone congregates to watch TV. Originally called the Man Cave, “we discovered that the women are more sports fanatics than the men so we changed it,” says Liebreich. Also he points out that it’s a draw for families. “It gives families reason to come back. A big challenge in the industry is creating reasons for families to return and not just drop off grandma. Grandkids enjoy this.”
The Sports Den
There are often parties in the Sky Lounge up on the top floor, a room with a gorgeous view and an outside deck looking over to Mt. Rainier and the Cascades. There are parties not only for residents and their families, but for employees, as well.
Thanks to owner Clark’s experiences, the parent company of Aegis also runs the Potato Soup Foundation. At one time his single mom was so short of funds she asked her boss for help, and he gave her a sack of potatoes which made soup for a week. Now, maybe 20 or 30 employees a year who need help can get it, including most recently a housekeeper who lost everything in a fire. Liebreich is proud that last year, as announced by KING-5, Aegis was voted by the employees as the best employer in the Seattle metropolitan area.
This facility is likely the only Aegis one built from scratch with respect for the residents’ needs and dignity paramount in every detail. As such, people in the field are flying in from all over the country. “People who’ve seen a thousand of these,” says Liebreich, “are coming to look at this one and see what’s been done. It makes me want to do more. This residence should be seen as a beacon to the community.”
It’s not cheap to live at Aegis on Madison. The base cost is $131 per day which includes all meals, but Liebreich considers that anyone owning a house in this area could live comfortably at Aegis for 15-20 years.
Go see it! I wouldn’t mind living there myself, down the road.