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Baycrest celebrates 100 years of serving the community

The original Toronto Jewish Old Folks Home on Cecil Street.

Exactly 100 years ago, concerned Jewish community members in Toronto recognized the need to care for the elderly.

Slova Greenberg, of the Ezras Noshem Society, led the charge, after she met 90-year-old Pearl Fieman, who was living in a city-operated institution. The public home couldn’t provide kosher food, religious care or medical attention in her language. Greenberg realized that many people faced similar barriers to living well in their senior years. Through door-to-door fundraising, they established the Toronto Jewish Old Folks Home, now called Baycrest, in a small, semi-detached house near Kensington Market. Fieman was among the first residents who moved into the home in 1918 and lived to be 100.

By 1934, the home had 75 residents. By 1938, it encompassed several additional houses. After the Second World War, the home took in about 40 displaced Holocaust survivors and needed more space. In 1948, they purchased land on Bathurst Street for a new hospital.

In the following decades, volunteer lay leaders, philanthropists and donors propelled Baycrest forward. What started as a home for the aged expanded into a multi-dimensional facility, combining care, innovation, research and education in brain health and aging. In 100 years, the community’s perseverance and compassion, rooted in tikun olam, transformed a shelter that was providing basic services for homeless and displaced elderly Jews, into a centre of excellence. Today, Baycrest is a global leader in geriatric residential living, health care, research, innovation and education, with a special focus on brain health and aging.

Slova Greenberg helped found Baycrest 100 years ago.

Its sprawling campus at 3560 Bathurst Street houses many affiliated institutions, including: the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation (CABHI), a unique collaboration of health-care, science, industry, not-for-profit and government partners; the Rotman Research Institute, where world-renowned scientists are investigating fundamental questions about memory, aging and cognition; the Apotex Centre, a world-class long-term care facility, which maintains residences for independent and assisted living; and the largest teaching hospital in Canada, which is run in conjunction with the University of Toronto.

“We provide both didactic training and case consultation,” said William Reichman, Baycrest’s president and CEO.

“We do a lot through tele-education, where, in real-time, you have allied health professionals in classrooms all around the world – places as far as Tunisia, the Sudan, Ethiopia.

“We literally provide health-care education through technology that’s available right now. We can actually examine their patients remotely and help them to understand what might be happening. The richness of this is it’s not just us here in Canada supporting doctors in China or Russia. It’s professionals from all around the world coming together around a common cause: to help the patient. Baycrest is the only senior care organization in the world that has the capacity to do this.”

Meanwhile, Baycrest’s commercial and consulting arm, Baycrest Global Solutions, is bringing its sought-after expertise and innovations to other health-care organizations and long-term care facilities, both in Canada and internationally. Baycrest is also helping advance brain health on a national scale, with Reichman recently appointed co-chair of the federal government’s newly established Ministerial Advisory Board on Dementia.

Dr. Howard Chertkow

The Baycrest Foundation is holding a special 100th Anniversary Gala on Oct. 14, to mark a century of service to the community, while raising funds to build the Kimel Family Centre for Brain Health and Wellness. When completed, it will function as a research, education and interdisciplinary clinic, to develop and evaluate the most promising approaches to preventing cognitive decline. Its inaugural director, Dr. Howard Chertkow, is a world-renowned cognitive neuroscientist and is also the scientific director of the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA). He will assemble a state-of-the-art clinical trials unit and further develop Baycrest’s translational research program in dementia, to test the latest emerging therapies for Alzheimer’s disease and related conditions.

“Over the past 100 years, donors have raised crucial funds to help establish many of Baycrest’s programs and facilities, including our hospital, the Apotex Centre, Jewish Home for the Aged, the Rotman Research Institute and CABHI. Thanks to the generosity of the Kimel family and the many donors who are contributing to this capital project, the Kimel Family Centre for Brain Health and Wellness will be a shining example of what is possible in the realm of brain health and aging. It will play a pivotal role in the fight to prevent dementia,” said Josh Cooper, president and CEO of the Baycrest Foundation.

“Under the direction of Dr. Cherktow, the Kimel Family Centre will spearhead the unprecedented convergence of scientific research and evidence-based interventions that will have a measurable impact on the brain health and wellness of older adults in our community, across Canada and worldwide.”

Much has changed in 100 years, but not everything. Baycrest is still devoted to the needs of the Jewish community. The spirit of giving and looking out for the needs of others endures in its mission to create “a world where every older adult enjoys a life of purpose, inspiration and fulfillment.”