SOMERS POINT – The announcement that Shore Medical Center will establish the Flora Baker Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Center came Thursday with the presentation of a check for $500,000 from Ocean City Masonic Lodge 171.
Shore Medical Center CEO Ron Johnson said the center will fill a tremendous need in the region for treatment and support for patients with Alzheimer’s and their loved ones. The money came to the Masons from Flora Baker, who died in 2014 at the age of 95.
Dr. David Roeltgen, a behavioral neurologist who provides cognitive diagnostic testing at Shore Physicians Group in Marmora, will head the center. Trained at the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown University, he has 35 years of experience diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s.
Shore Medical Chief Financial Officer David Hughes said the gift from the Masons is enough to get the program up and running. Plans are for the center to be self-sustaining through payment for clinical trials. He said he expects the center to begin seeing patients in six months. month timeframe on center when the first patients
Without the donation the center would not have been possible, he said.
John Quinn, president of the Masons board of trustees, said Lodge 171 gives out roughly $125,000 annually in scholarships. He suggested that the organization's track record in the community is what made Baker choose the Masons to bequeath the money.
“Benjamin Baker was not a member of the Masons, and none of our members knew Flora Baker personally, but I think she knew we would be thorough and follow through with her wishes,” said Quinn.
“We were contacted by Flora’s attorney that she had left a large sum and that she was directing the money to Alzheimer’s treatment in the area. We listened to several proposals, but what Shore had put together that addresses not only the Alzheimer’s patient but their family and the caregivers made us comfortable in our decision to give the money to Shore."
He said the program will be a tremendous asset to the community and something Baker would have been pleased with.
Johnson said the Alzheimer’s Center will expand expertise in cognitive neurosciences and provide a streamlined approach to diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s and related disorders. It will ensure a continuum of care with primary care physicians, family and caregivers and help provide local access and oversight of the specialized medications that Alzheimer’s and dementia clinical trial patients require.
The center will provide guidance to patients and family, coordinate care and community outreach and offer local education for caregivers, families and the community. The next closest Alzheimer’s disease center is at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, according to Johnson
Roeltgen said Alzheimer’s is a spectrum of diseases that includes dementia.
"It needs to be understood that Alzheimer’s is really a family disease because it takes a toll on the patient as well as their family," he said. "I see so many people who are trying to take care of their loved one all by themselves; it’s so difficult because this is a 24-hour a day job.”
Roeltgen said that what made him so excited about the plans Shore has for the center is the hospital's commitment to work with the whole family and not simply the patient.
While many of the Alzheimer’s programs across the country are research based, this will be different because it has the psychological and social support of the family along with the ability to offer clinical trials for new medications.
According to Johnson, the region's over-65 population is growing at a rate of 12 percent annually, and the need for Alzheimer’s care will only continue to grow.
Roeltgen said Alzheimer’s still remains a mystery because researchers have not pinpointed the cause, and there is no cure. The average lifespan after diagnosis is about six years, he said, and they want to make those years as fulfilling as possible.
He said he is touched by the generosity of the gift and that Shore has been a recipient of Flora and Benjamin Baker's largess before, when the couple provided $3 million for expansion of the hospital in 2011. The atrium was named in their honor.
The Bakers had no children and spent much of their life in Ocean City, where they owned several hotels including The Bellevue Hotel at the corner of Eighth Street and Ocean Avenue. Demolished in 2012, the hotel was a throwback to the days of elegant hotels, with a bellhop there to open the door and carry luggage, and a porch lined with rocking chairs in which to sit and catch the shore breezes.
Mary McGucken of the Shore Medical Center Auxiliary said Flora Baker was not only generous but committed to the community and felt a responsibility to make a positive contribution.