Howard and Department of Health Open New Senior Wellness Center

WASHINGTON -- After Ernest Duckett finished his tour of the new Hayes Senior Wellness Center on 5th Street in Ward 6, he was left with one word.

“Stunned,” said the elderly retiree, sporting a smart blue suit.  “I was stunned.”

It wasn’t just the center’s brand new state-of-the-art exercise room, complete with treadmills loaded with extras like individual televisions, the latest in weight and cycling machines and other advances, that caught his eye.

Though he did say, “That was impressive.”

And it wasn’t just the center’s huge, modern kitchen for cooking lessons, or the computer room with new personal computers for training, or the massage room, or the dance/aerobic exercise room, or the meditation room or even the special employment office housed downstairs that helps area seniors find part-time jobs.

Duckett couldn’t get over what Howard University Hospital’s Division of Geriatric Services and the District of Columbia’s Office on Aging had done to his old elementary school.

“Yep, I went to school right here,” he said.  “It was an elementary school then.  There were only eight classrooms.  The whites had moved out of the school and we moved in.  It was nothing.  I came today because I wanted to see what it looked like.

“I’m stunned.”

What had been a decaying shell was now a modern, three-story, neatly appointed home-away-from-home for the hundreds of seniors of Ward 6.  He was there on opening day for the introduction the multi-faceted facility.

Residents were not disappointed.

“I love it and the seniors in this ward need it,” said Frankie Whitfield, 72, who has been coming to the center before its official opening.   It’s healthy and it’s helpful.   If the seniors have something like this, they’ll use it.”

Whitfield said that since she began working out at the center, her blood pressure has dropped from 180/78 to 128/50.

Audrey Bazemore, who retired from the Post Office after 40 years, was excited.

“This is really important for people in the ward,” Bazemore said.  “I will definitely use it.”

The center is owned by the Department of Health and run by Howard which operates it under a grant with the city.  Dr. Thomas Obisesan, a clinical research scientist, professor of Medicine at Howard University College of Medicine and chief of the Division of Geriatrics at Howard University Hospital, is in charge of the facility.  So far, the center has already registered 200 seniors, Obisesan said.

“We hope the numbers will grow,” he said.  “The hope is that we can register 1,000 seniors and we will serve at least 100 on a daily basis.”

The center is number one a wellness facility, Obisesan said.  Consequently, it offers a range of programs to keep seniors fit, such as aerobic exercise, residence exercise, dancing and walking, gerontology counseling, nutritional instruction, memory aerobics and cognitive remediation, inspirational hour, medication brown bag and check for drug interaction, memory assessment and prevention checkups.

Dr. John Thompson, director of the D.C. Office on Aging, told the seniors gathered for opening day that the center’s mission is to keep seniors engaged and healthy enough to stay in their homes rather than going to nursing homes.

“One of the big things is avoiding the social isolation that leads to poor health for so many of our seniors,” Thompson said.  “This gives them a place to go that offers a wide range of services and the opportunity to interact with their peers.”

Duckett took one last look at the red brick façade of the building just as the morning’s program ended.

He turned and said to one of the people with him, “Don’t worry.  I’ll be coming here.”

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