Life stages are often reflected in housing choices. Just married? Buy a condo in the city. Expecting a baby? Look for a house in the suburbs. Several kids later? Trade that starter home in for a bigger place. Retirement? Return to condo living with other empty nesters. 

As life changes, so do the needs of an aging population, making senior living facilities an important part of the local housing market. Holley Court Terrace in Oak Park, now officially rebranded Brookdale Plaza Oak Park, offers different levels of senior living for those looking to age in their hometown as well as seniors seeking to be near their children and grandchildren in the western suburbs.

The 13-floor senior residence has been a part of the community for two decades, first as an affiliate of West Suburban Hospital, then as part of the American Retirement Association and for the past eight years under the umbrella of Brookdale Senior Living. 

All of Brookdale’s communities formally add “Brookdale” to their names this month, but the management and ownership of the facilities remain the same. Oak Park’s building also recently completed a renovation, with the goal of better meeting the needs of today’s seniors.

The facility

Kathleen Mullaghy, executive director of Brookdale Plaza Oak Park, has been there for 14 years and has an intimate knowledge of the building and its inhabitants. 

“We currently have 184 residents and 180 apartments,” she said. “Thirty-six of those apartments are licensed assisted-living and the rest are independent-living apartments.”

The second floor of the building provides a number of resources for residents. A common space and coffee lounge offer a place for residents and their guests to gather. Both residents and members of the Oak Park community frequently use a second-floor library and meeting room. Speech, occupational and physical therapy are available onsite in the second-floor therapy room. Medical offices are provided to local doctors and health and wellness professionals who hold office hours. Residents also have access to an art studio and fitness center for recreational opportunities.

A one-time, nonrefundable community fee of $3,500 is paid when the lease is signed.  Rents range from $2,995 to $6,510, depending on the size and location of the apartment.  Basic rent includes chef-prepared meals, weekly housekeeping service, linen service, a full activity program, scheduled bus and car transportation and access to a wellness nurse and fitness room. 

The renovation

The recent renovation took a twofold approach: one, to enhance the common facilities on the 13th floor of the building (which contains the dining room with a lovely view across the treetops of Oak Park to the Chicago skyline, plus the “terrace” outdoor deck) and two, to provide more assisted-living rooms for the residents. 

The main dining room occupies prime real estate and was part of the renovation efforts, Mullaghy notes. 

“The architects were really smart here,” she said. “They opened up the room to sweeping views of the city. This view really makes for special dining for our residents.”

The outdoor terrace shares the wide city views and is available for residents and their families and is frequently used for special events. 

But the entire floor provides space for residents to gather and for families to use for celebrations, like the upcoming 100th birthday of Millicent Hosp in June. After enhancing everyday life for all of the residents, a key component to recent renovations was to alter the assisted living environment of the building. 

 “A big part of the renovation was increasing the licensed assisted-living apartments from 18 to 36,” said Mullaghy. “We provide a home-like environment, but there’s medical support when it is needed. The expansion of assisted living was based on the needs of our current population. As our senior population ages and people live longer and take longer to make the initial move to a facility like ours, it made sense to provide for the next stage. We were also finding that people who had been living at Holley Court for a long time might have a health issue where they needed more care, and we didn’t want them to have to leave. We’ve added a nursing component so that now we can administer medications like eye drops, shots and insulin.”

On the fourth floor, which is dedicated to assisted living, a two-bedroom apartment was transformed into a sitting room and office space for residents and their families. Mullaghy said residents can continue to live in apartments while wearing a special pendant so they can call for help at any time. 

“We provide normal apartments and activity rooms,” she said. “We’re trying to provide that invisible support so people can remain independent and have their own space but still get the support they need.” 

Brookdale ‘university’

One thing that hasn’t changed is the community feel that permeates the building. Mullaghy said they have a very active group of residents who run their own newsletter, two book clubs, a Yiddish club and a culture club, among other activities. 

“We have what is known as ‘Brookdale University,’ in which the residents run their own lecture series, bringing in outside scholars and experts for educational talks,” she said. “Our residents are also tapping into their networks and the Oak Park community as a whole. There’s such a richness connected with the community that is reflected here. I’m pleased with the renovation, but so much of the community is the richness of the residents and their families. That’s what really makes this community come alive.”

Evidence of that connected community can be found throughout the building. One resident, a retired physician from Greece, painted a portrait of President Obama, which she wanted to send to the President. Congressman Danny K. Davis took the portrait to Washington D.C. where he promised to deliver it.

Brookdale Senior Living has also partnered with the Jeremy Bloom Foundation’s Wish of a Lifetime program to grant the wishes of residents. One resident, inspired by the election of Obama was given a trip to the inauguration festivities. Together with his daughter and niece, he was able to travel to Washington D.C. and attend an inauguration ball.

To Mullaghy this sort of engagement with and by the community contributes a sense of well-being to all of the residents. 

“This is the kind of vibrancy still alive in this building. People are engaged and engaging with the world around them at every age.”

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