When it comes to delivering quality care, Chef Justin Sledge rebels against the idea of senior homes being “retirement homes” by providing great nutrition and interactive design.
Justin aims to combine compassion and creativity to provide the best care for senior residents at Aegis Living. The chef has tremendous influence in the senior home’s decision-making process in nutrition and design due to his wide range of experience and passion to help senior residents. While it is often believed for senior care homes to be quiet and slow, Aegis Living – under Justin’s guidance – blossomed into lively space for the community.
“I believe the best treatment and care is through spending time with loved ones,” says Justin, chef of Aegis Living for five years. “We want to make this a place where everyone wants to visit.”
Aegis Living has several locations throughout the west coast – each with a different decorative theme, but same core values. Justin is currently at the helm of the Victorian themed Aegis Living’s kitchen. Every detail that goes into the many floors such intricate dining room, archaic-style movie theater, and hand-painted pizza kitchen spoke volumes about the staff’s care and compassion towards the residents.
The chef of twenty-three years has made the decision to switch from restaurants to senior care and has been there ever since. Justin was also known for baking treats for Seattle’s charitable Queen Bee Café where profits are donated to the city’s selected charities.
I had the privilege to be Justin’s guest as he gave me a tour of what appeared to be a magnificent manor located in Seattle’s Queen Anne area. The windows are wide with a perfect view of the soccer field next door where children often come to play – and visit Aegis Living for tours and activities with the senior residents. A lavish private dining room seats sixteen guests and serves lobster for family holiday dinners. One floor hosts a game room with a handmade painted golf course for residents to play with visiting grandchildren. It seems the entire home was brimming with delightful activities for the senior residents and their guests to enjoy.
At the large kitchen, the chef presented the menu of the day – Alaskan salmon, classic Caesar salad, and grilled beef tenderloin – all made with fresh local ingredients. Justin oversees the menus throughout all the Aegis Living homes.
Justin lead me through the Memory Care floor with a multitude of family paintings such as a grandfather laughing with his grandson on a fishing trip and an elderly couple smiling and walking together. He explained that photos like these help trigger good memories for seniors and improves their mood. All the décor and structure are carefully chosen to elicit positive emotions and memories in senior residents. There were also multiple studios for crafts and leatherwork, lavish salons and a beautiful pool. There were even rooms decked out to look like a jungle with screens that play hiking and wildlife documentaries for seniors to calm themselves from anxiety.
The tremendous amount of compassion in each care is what makes Aegis Living stand out most. There is a large social aspect that heavily influenced the design of Aegis Living homes and encourages frequent interactions with friends and family.
Lastly, I was able ask Justin a few questions about his work with Aegis.
Q: Why all the focus on design and aesthetics?
JS: Art helps to bring out positive emotions in our residents. It is not a place to put away some of the most important people in our lives who have helped shaped our future. We want to make it as nice an experience as we can for the residents.
Q: Why did you decide to choose Aegis Living over your previous career as a restaurant chef?
JS: This was the best decision of my life. I was a chef for twenty-three years and it was like Hell’s Kitchen. The job was demanding and the hours even more so – I hardly had time to see my kids. There would be countless weekends where I had to skip out on ballet recitals and family picnics because of work. This is much more fulfilling and I’ve never been happier. Here, I get the best of both worlds where I have more time to see my kids and I still get to do what I love – being a chef.
Q: How do you deal with competitors?
JS: We hope to inspire competitors to do what we do. We hope they try to recreate the same level of care towards their senior residents as well. This might mean switching to more local fresh ingredients or quality of life programs and activities.
Q: What are the next steps for you and for Aegis Living?
JS: We are expanding and building six more senior care homes throughout the west coast these next few years. I will be there to help train new staff and help plan everything from what the place should look like to what’s on today’s menu for our senior residents.