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loka 2, 2015

Lepokoti- Finnish, American or Finnish-American?

The Finnish-American Rest Home in Lake Worth (FL) has been a home for thousands of Finns and for their relatives during last 45 years. Now the Finnish culture is vanishing due the currant adminitsration..

The Finnish American Rest Home in Lake Worth, Florida is fighting to survive in the fiercely competitive market. Does is still have a future?

An old man is sitting in a lounge chair in the Lepokoti lobby. He seems to be sleeping, his chin dropped against his chest, eyes closed. His right hand is supporting his head preventing it from drooping.

-Vaino, are you asleep?

-No! I’m listening.

There is a couple of other listeners, because the lobby is the place where things happen. People come and go, some acquaintances come in and every now and then someone will sit down to exchange a few words. The receptionist is answering the phone and they are listening to the conversations. There’s music playing from the CD-player, probably old Finnish dance music. This is home.

 The Finnish American Rest Home -or Lepokoti in Finnish -was established four decades ago for a great demand. In Florida there was a large Finnish population of carpenters, constructors, restaurant entrepreneurs, drivers and housekeepers serving wealthy American families in Palm Beach and New York. Many of them were single persons or at least they didn’t have children. They had had nice benefits including room and board, saving their small salaries for their retirement. Many had been introduced to investing their earnings having a nice nest egg for retirement. They just needed to find a place to live. There was a demand for building a retirement home, Lepokoti. Why the census is so low nowadays and there is no waiting list anymore like there used to be until the end of 90’s?

The Finnish community in Lake Worth and Lantana area was consisting of thousands of members. It has always been a tight knit community doing business together as well as excelling in charities for its members. When there was a need for a retirement home, the community got together and decided to build one. Lepokoti had its Grand Opening on March 1, 1974.

During the years the average life time has increased; people live well into their 90’s and it’s not rare nowadays to find a person celebrating their 100th birthday. At the same time people are encouraged to stay in their own homes as long as possible relying on home health care services. The reality is that many elderly persons are mostly assisted by their family and neighbors.

Opening the Doors for All Nationalities

The doors of Lepokoti were finally opened for people from all nationalities by the Membership in 2010.  Still there was no rush to Lepokoti. One of the reasons is that Lepokoti did not have a marketing specialist for a long time and there was no Grand Opening event to make it known to the public. At the same time the name Finnish-American Rest Home, Inc. was changed to the Village on High Ridge. The new name is still not well known in the care community. It’s important to remember that the company owning and operating The Village on High Ridge is still the same Finnish American Rest Home, Inc. This may be confusing to some people. Should the old name be adapted back to public use?

The Finnish American Rest Home, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization belonging to the tax category (501) c (3). There are two other eldercare facilities in the Palm Beach County that have the same tax status: Noreen McKeen run by the Catholic Church and the Jewish community’s own Morse Life. Both of those are highly appreciated and financially solid establishments. It’s easy to see what the mission of these two different facilities is, what drives them to serve and who the main recipients of their services are. What is the mission of the FARH, Inc.? In the beginning of times it was to offer a retirement home to Finnish elderly people in a very unique cultural environment. Why doesn’t the Home for the Finns thrive anymore?

Those American families who have chosen the Finnish Home- as the place has also been called-  for their loved ones have been content with the care and also with the facilities, especially in Assisted Living.  Three years ago Dr. Terttu Parkatti made a small, qualitative survey in The Assisted Living about ‘The Staff Conceptions About the Rehabilitative Approach’ in assisted living setting. The result of the study is that the staff in ALF has the approach that enables residents’ independence and recovery. Staff is devoted to their work and the cultural aspect is strongly present.

It has been often mentioned that the atmosphere in the Home is ‘European’, in a positive meaning. Competition is tough, especially now when the State of Florida has allowed 5000 new nursing home beds to be built in the already fiercely competitive field of skilled nursing care.

The President of Florida Assisted Living Association, Mr. Shaddrick A. Haston said some time ago, when asked about the survival in this competition: try to find what is special to you, your ‘own thing’. Isn’t it the Finnish culture for the Finnish Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing, even if somebody sees it being ‘European’?

Finnish – or which language?

Why should a small ethnic group run and maintain home for elderly? Should we give up and let go? There is at least one aspect that encourages continuing: memory problems. The most important issue for a memory impaired person is to receive care in an environment that is familiar, where the personnel speaks their language and the surroundings remind of the culture they come from. Understanding of a foreign language turns to passive knowledge and spoken language turns to the native one. The baby boomers are still coming to the age when memory problems start to be an issue for person’s safety – even if the physical health may be fairly good. Unfortunately we have seen number of Finnish staff members getting scarce under the current administration, especially in the Nursing Home.

On the AHCA pages there were the listed languages spoken in the Nursing Home such as ‘Philippine’, Creole and Spanish, but no Finnish. When asked the Chairman of the Board, he said there is a mistake and it will be corrected. However, he said that the Finnish language is deterring possible residents. This is unheard of; the facility is known about its ethnicity for public for 40 plus years.

When later checked the list of languages it turns out that the Philippine language was removed – but Finnish language was still missing. Is this the official opinion of the Board? Aren’t they expecting any more Finnish residents to the Home? Is it a shame to be a Finn?

The official language of the Home is English, it has always been. All official meetings are recorded in English. Other languages, such as Finnish can be used, if all the people present understand the language. In the hallways of the Home we have equally heard English and Spanish, Creole and Finnish, we can add Swedish and Estonian to the list, too. The Philippine would have been a nice addition, why remove it?

The Board of Directors – professional knowledge or attending to the interest of the Finnish Clubs?

The governing system of the Corporation is one of a kind. The highest authority that can make changes to the by-laws is the Membership Meeting. The members who have paid their membership fees are the voice of the owner in the Corporation that according to its tax category is tax- exempt.

The Corporation has also a Board of Directors. The members of the Board are and according to the by-laws they must be Finns. By-laws state that Board must ‘manage and direct the Corporation in such a way that the Corporation maintains profitability’. The Board hires an Administrator, who needs to have a valid Florida Nursing Home Administrator License. The Board also hires a Rest Home Manager, who needs to have Core Training. These two units, the Assisted Living and the Nursing Home, could essentially operate as separate units with their own management and staff, because their rules and functions are different from each other.

Because the work on both sides is specialized and strictly regulated by the State, the Board cannot be managing the daily operations. Instead the most important task for the Board should be clearly to define the Mission of the Corporation and consider it as the principal for the functions and at the same time make certain that the Administrator follows the by-laws and the mission of the Corporation.

The Board consists of the representatives of the local Finnish Clubs. The Board members are lay people who volunteer to sit in the Board. The representatives- called delegates- come from the following clubs:  the American Finnish Club, Finland House, Finnish American Rest Home, Inc. (a resident del.), the Finnish War Veterans in Florida, Finlandia Foundation Florida Chapter, Friends of Rest Home, St Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Karelians in Florida and the Nordic Club. There has been no great desire to be a member of the Board in the recent years and many of those who have come to do this volunteer work have quit after one year or sometimes even earlier. The task is not easy, that’s true. It has been difficult to find e.g. resident representatives lately due to high age and various physical ailments.

Is it time for the Membership to change the rules of election for the Board members? Instead of Finnish Clubs sending their delegates to the Board by twisting their arm we could think about the same kind of system they have in the Finnish Homes in Canada. Openings for the Board membership come up a few at a time and for more than one year period. The persons willing to sit in the Board need to fill in an application and the most qualified for that position will be chosen. Many of the members of our Finnish community are members in several clubs and binding the Board membership to any of the clubs is limiting, especially when the clubs will in no way benefit from sending a representative to the Board. It would be more useful and beneficial for the Corporation to have Board members who are willing to learn, to find out and bring in their own expertise for the benefit of the Corporation. Also, the Board members in the Board should be real members of the Corporation, not only sent by accreditation by the clubs or associations. Personal and volunteer membership would show real interest in working for the best of the residents and the staff.

The Finnish American Rest Home is a beautiful example of the solidarity and affinity of the Finnish Community. Times are changing and the whole elder care field is changing. Let’s not be afraid of the change, but we really need to seriously think of what kind of change we as a community want to see and do we have the will and the energy to make it  happen.

Text and photo:

Pijo-Leena Koskinen,

Lake Worth, FL

FARH member since 2004. The writer has been working as Rest Home Administrator 2004-2013

The rules and regulations concerning the eldercare are available for all on the internet.

The information about the Nursing Home (SNF): 

The information about the Rest Home ( ALF):

 AHCA (Agency for Health Care Administration) is the entity that performs State inspections on both sides and reports them.

Following links lead to the governing rules and regulations.

Florida law and rules for ALF (Assisted Living Facilities):

Florida Statutes Chapter 429 Part 1

Florida Administrative Code Chapter 58.A-5

 Florida law and rules for Nursing homes:

Florida Statutes Chapter 400 under title XX1X Public Health

Florida Administrative Code 59.A-4