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Couple creates personable care home for the elderly

Home-cooked Italian meals, quaint décor part of charm at Lakeland Manor
By: Tinka Davi Granite Bay View Correspondent
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An unfortunate experience in Joe and Mary Bruno’s life prompted them to completely change their lifestyle and provide a pleasant place for three elderly women with special health needs. As he tells the backstory, Joe Bruno points to his Uncle Frank Tomasoni’s military mementos from World War II. They’re framed and displayed prominently on the family room wall. “My uncle was like a second dad,” Joe said. “When he developed lung cancer, we found him a residential care facility for the elderly in the Bay Area, but it was god-awful. They fed him chicken feet with rice and gravy for breakfast.” Uncle Frank stayed alone in his room for days and would call, crying, Joe said. “After going through that with our uncle, we decided that when our son went off to college, we would turn our house into a care facility,” he said. Joe, 55, and Mary, 53, opened Lakeland Manor in Granite Bay last year. “We’re an alternative to someone being just another person in a nursing home of 50-100 people,” Joe said. “We keep it nice and small with a homey atmosphere.” It’s home to Mavis, 87, who is snoozing in front of the TV; Leona, 91, who prefers to stay in her room all the time; and Irene, 92, who waves at a visitor, then looks back at her hands that hold a small black and white photograph of her mother. Every day she asks to go home. Mavis and Irene have dementia and can’t live on their own; neither can Leona, who broke her hip. “We keep them as occupied as possible,” Joe said. “We have 220 TV channels, but the three women prefer Hallmark and westerns.” They also have card games and puzzles. The couple provides plenty of TLC, comfort and conversation. Their focus and that of a helper/caregiver, Michelle, is obviously on the three women. They bend down or sit next to the women, listen carefully and reply softly. Belle, a friendly 6-year-old Maltese, likes to sit in their laps. Joe Bruno understands what it’s like to be seriously ill. In 1989, at age 34, his neck started swelling. The doctor said it was cancer, and Joe underwent chemotherapy and radiation. Four years later, he had a heart attack and triple bypass. In 2000, he had surgery to insert two stents to open his arteries. “I know what it’s like not to feel good,” he said. Mary learned to be a caretaker when she quit her job as an executive secretary to care for Joe. Turning their home into a care facility was not easy. They had to complete a 209-page state of California application and attend numerous informational meetings in Chico, where the commission on care licensing was located. The entry to their home required remodeling for wheelchair access. The wooden ramp leading to their front door has a 1-inch drop for every 12 inches, a flat landing every 30 feet and a 5- to 6-foot area for turning around. Several plants in front of their house were removed to accommodate the ramp. A second required exit is via another smaller ramp, which runs from the back door and along the rear of their home. Hard-wired smoke alarms are installed in every room; the outside house numbers are lighted so emergency vehicles can find the home; the bathrooms have grab bars and each exit door has an alarm. “People with dementia have a tendency to wander,” Mary explained. Mary must take 40 hours of continuing education every two years and has applied for hospice waiver, which means residents can stay as long as necessary at Lakeland Manor. Joe prepares home-cooked, Italian-style dinners, following his grandmother’s recipes for specialties such as chicken marsala and fettuccine alfredo. Breakfasts are prepared to order, according to what each woman prefers. Lakeland Manor is licensed for six men and women, but Mary likes keeping it smaller with just three people, one per bedroom. Residents, including the elderly and people who need short-term care after accidents, are referred by agencies who work with local hospitals. The cost per month depends on the care needed and starts at $2,500 a month. The bedrooms are painted in soft, restful colors and each has a bed, dresser and baby monitor. The rooms are decorated with artwork, matching curtains and bedspreads and personalized with the residents’ stuffed animals. The Brunos sleep on a sofa bed in the living room. The couple must follow strict regulations in providing care. They can dispense medication, but each resident must pick it up and put it in her mouth. A diabetic must be able to give his or her own insulin shots. Family members or the Brunos take residents for appointments or outings. Speech, walk and physical therapists visit regularly. Leona’s family stops by every afternoon; the others also have visitors. Joe and Mary grew up six blocks from each other in San Francisco, attended high school together and married in 1976. He worked for AT&T for 30 years — in the Bay Area and Sacramento. Mary worked for an insurance company and then as a teacher’s aide. They choose Granite Bay because they wanted a country setting close to a grocery store. Lakeland Manor is just off Douglas Boulevard on the way to the Granite Bay entrance to Folsom Lake. It’s a pleasant, quiet place to spend the later years with special care. Tinka Davi is a freelance writer and editor based in Folsom.