LeadingAge Magazine · September/October 2015 • Volume 05 • Number 05

Partnership Across Continents and Cultures

September 13, 2015 | by Linda Barbarotta

Here is how a partnership between a Lebanese Christian church and an American CCRC has created a new, multi-faith assisted living community in Beirut.

When David Reimer, president and CEO of Palm Village Retirement Community, landed in Beirut, Lebanon, in January 2014, he was a long way from Reedley, CA. The arrival had been nerve-wracking. That morning two car bombs had detonated in the city. But he was on a mission: to visit the Moadieh Evangelical Center for Assisted Living, a community he, Palm Village and others had helped bring to fruition.

After he arrived, Reimer had a conversation with a resident that helped ease the tension: “She was looking in my direction and started coming toward me. I assumed she’d want to talk about the car bombings. Instead, she just wanted to say hi and ask if I would go to communion service with her on Sunday. It was a very moving experience for me.”

Reimer’s involvement with the Moadieh Center came about because of his previous international work with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which provides relief to those affected by wars and national disasters around the world. Pastor Habib Badr of the National Evangelical Church, which runs the Center, contacted MCC for help in starting Lebanon’s first assisted living community. Joyce Eid, R.N., MBA, had been hired as general manager with the understanding that she get training on running an assisted living community.

When Reimer, Eid and Badr began their collaboration via e-mail and Skype, Reimer told them he would help in any way they needed. He offered to host Eid at Palm Village, where she could work with staff to learn how to organize and operationalize an assisted living community, set up staffing, networking, marketing and public relations.

Eid visited Palm Village in spring 2013 and stayed for a month, living in an independent living apartment on campus. She shadowed key staff of Palm Village’s independent living, memory care and nursing home units but spent most of her time with the assisted living residents and staff, learning the day-to-day operations. Eid found Palm Village’s policies and procedures invaluable and used them as the basis for the Moadieh Center’s governance.

Reimer remembers being concerned about how Palm Village residents would react to Eid, an Arab Christian, but he needn’t have worried. The residents quickly warmed up to Eid, welcoming her as part of their family. So much so that both Palm Village and community residents have helped fund Eid’s future travel expenses. After she left, some residents and community members began meeting at 11:00 a.m. every Friday in the Chaplain’s office to pray for Eid and still do to this day.

Eid found the residents very kind and sweet. When they invited her to their functions, they often wore nametags so she could get to know them: “Some of our most memorable exchanges happened when the residents asked me about my life, my family and kids and the Lebanese culture. We found so much common ground during those conversations.”

Three months after Eid returned to Beirut, Rev. Badr officially opened the Moadieh Center, with 35 apartments. In his opening remarks, Badr startled the audience by announcing that the Center would be open to all citizens, regardless of faith. Lebanon has had a history of violence between Christians, Muslims and Druze. (The Druze religion is a unique, monotheistic faith with some ancient roots in Shia Islam, but the Druze are generally not considered Muslims.)

While the Center’s first residents were Christian, eventually Druze and Muslim elders came. Today all of Lebanon’s religions are represented in both the residents and staff. Residents tell Eid they find the diversity enriching and some Muslim residents attend the monthly Biblical interpretation studies. Eid makes a point of not revealing the breakdown of the residents’ religious affiliations. She believes that would defeat the purpose of the Center.

Eid recalls the day a prominent Druze leader and politician, Walid Joumblatt, visited a resident at the Moadieh Center. “I knew who he was right away and was shocked to see him. I went over and welcomed him, explaining our open-door policy and giving him a tour. A few days later, he came to my office and gave us a large donation in honor of his mother, whom he said would have celebrated our mission to welcome all.”

Eid explains why this was such a poignant and healing moment for her. “Between 1975 and 1990, we had a major civil war here where Christians and Druze were on opposing sides. My family owned a summer home in a small village in Mt. Lebanon. In 1982, when I was 13, some Druze came to our home and told my father we should evacuate immediately as it wasn’t safe for us to stay. My family left and a few hours later, individuals from the Druze sect broke into our house, stealing everything and burning the house to the ground. When the war ended, people on both sides realized we [are] all Lebanese and had to find a way to live together.”

Eid adds, “When I saw Joumblatt, I realized it was a great opportunity to build bridges and work together on common goals especially since he gives special attention to senior care.”

Joumblatt continued to support the Moadieh Center, facilitating a meeting between Eid and the COO of a Druze nursing home, who was interested in learning about assisted living. They have since signed a memo of understanding to continue working together. At the signing ceremony, Badr, Joumblatt and board members from both communities were present along with the Lebanese minister of health.

LeadingAge is the U.S. chapter of the International Association of Homes and Services for the Ageing (IAHSA). IAHSA’s mission is to connect and support care, housing and service providers worldwide to enhance the quality of life for people as they age. With a presence in 30 countries, IAHSA facilitates staff exchanges and shared learning.

As members of IAHSA, David Reimer of Palm Village Retirement Community and Joyce Eid of the Moadieh Evangelical Center for Assisted Living have benefited from being part of the global network of IAHSA and have been able to share their experiences widely. As we face the biggest demographic shift in the history of the world—global ageing—all nations can benefit from learning from leaders like Eid and Reimer, who share a passion and a commitment while miles apart.

“IAHSA has a window on the amazing accomplishments as well as the enormous challenges faced by organizations supporting elders around the world and knows that, by working together, we can make a difference,” says Katie Smith Sloan, executive director of IAHSA and chief operating officer of LeadingAge.

Both Reimer and Eid attended the 2014 meeting of the European Association of Homes and Services for the Ageing. There they talked about bringing 11 Lebanese nursing home providers from diverse faiths together for the first time to share information, learn from each other and hear from several American aging experts, including Majd Alwan, director of LeadingAge’s Center for Aging Services Technology. Eid wanted the conference to take place at the Center but since the U.S. State Department has warned Americans about travelling to Lebanon, it was scheduled for Cyprus, Sept. 5-6.

Eid again points to the generosity of Reimer and Palm Village. “Having a conference in Cyprus is costly, so David took it upon himself to raise funds for all conference expenses.”

Both Reimer and Eid have found working together has brought them many gifts. Reimer says he has learned as much from Eid as she has from him. “It’s a whole different experience hearing questions from someone starting a new senior care concept with so many cultural differences.”

“I really like what I do and do it whole-heartedly and I’m so grateful for David’s help and friendship,” Eid says. “I consult with him and ask for guidance on new issues that come up as the Center is growing. Even though California is 10 hours behind Beirut time, sometimes when I text him with a question or an issue I’m trying to solve, he wakes up to answer me immediately. I’ll always appreciate and dearly cherish the love and support of David and the people of Palm Village.”

David Reimer and Joyce Eid will present an education session on this partnership at the 2015 LeadingAge Annual Meeting and Expo in Boston, MA. Visit the 2015 Annual Meeting website for details of session 90-B, Monday, Nov. 2.

The Lebanese Interfaith Elder Care Conference, which took place Sept. 5-6, 2015, in Larnaca, Cyprus, brought together managers of 12 different Lebanese long-term care centers of diverse faiths, all having one objective in mind: caring for seniors in Lebanon. Organizing, collaborating, and working together represented the main theme of the conference. Sessions tackled topics relating to senior care.

Majd Alwan, executive director of the LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST), highlighted the role and potential of a broad array of technologies; advised attendees to start their technology journeys with strategic planning, including identifying strategic goals, partners, and collaborators, and then embarking on strategic IT and technology planning; and shared CAST’s technology planning and selection tools. He too emphasized the importance of organizing locally and regionally, and working together with other Arab countries to elevate elder care as a sector. He also suggested collaborating with local universities to leverage local talent and foster technology innovations grounded in the local realities through a “hackathon” model.

“It was an honor to be with this group, to see interfaith collaboration towards a noble common goal, serving the older adult population in Lebanon, and serve as a bridge between American and Arab cultures,” says Alwan. He is eager to see this effort continue and grow, and hopes it can expand into other Arab countries, to bring revered elders in this region the highest level of compassion, dignity, and quality of care that they deserve. He believes this can be achieved in a culturally-sensitive way, through a combination of efficient technology-enabled professional services and strong family communication and engagement, both in home and community-based as well as congregate settings.

Alwan also strongly recommended that providers in the region join the International Association of Homes and Services for the Ageing (IAHSA) to connect with peers in the global aging network and share learning.

Dr. Paul Norwood presented on the “Treatment of Diabetes Today & Tomorrow,” highlighting the alarming increase of diabetes in the world, the region and in Lebanon in particular. Norwood provided an overview of diabetes treatment and emphasized the importance of prevention, including the treatment of depression, which can be an often-overlooked contributing factor.

Rick Stiffney, president and CEO of Mennonite Health Services (MHS), Goshen, IN, who has had many occasions to interact with executives and boards around collaboration and affiliation, also spoke. He emphasized that collaboration is one of the most contemporary themes in organizational strategic work these days, citing the many dynamics that contribute to and the barriers that work against healthy and effective collaboration. Stiffney reminded the group that finding common cause and building trust are among the most critical building blocks, and he also facilitated small group discussions to help the group find such common goals and build trust.

The participating leaders, representing unique organizations rooted within various religious traditions, demonstrated a remarkable capacity to suspend differences and find common cause and extend trust to one another. They were able to name and claim their common sense of “sacred” call to serving older adults with love, compassion, and dignity. They recognized that through extending trust they could begin to build friendships through which they could advance common interests in policy and resource development. “It was an honor to serve and learn with them,” says Stiffney.

Joyce Khouri Eid, general manager of Moadieh Evangelical Center for Assisted Living, briefly presented on elder care in Lebanon. Eid then led and facilitated an engaged generative discussion with the other group leaders about the current status, where the sector is headed, and what providers should and can do together.

David Reimer, president and CEO of Palm Village Retirement Community, Reedley, CA, made closing remarks.

“By all accounts this conference was a huge success; I am full of hope …” says Reimer. “I’d love to see the group continue to meet, collaborate and organize and look forward to sharing more about this experience at the LeadingAge Annual Meeting and Expo in Boston.”