Life at Casa Arkati has always reminded Connie Cacciattolo of a wonderful world full of scenes and people she only read about in English high-society books.
The former carer and active ageing coordinator, who has just retired, joined the home in 1996, three years after it opened its doors for the first time. As the years rolled by, she became part of its ‘furniture’.
August marks not only the 27th anniversary of Malta’s first private luxury residence for the elderly but also that of CareMalta, which has become a leader in the provision of healthcare and accommodation for older persons, currently operating nine homes.
Casa Arkati was originally built with the main aim of offering residents a comfortable, safe and pleasant stay, supported by a team of qualified and experienced staff. It would merge the best of both worlds: group retirement homes as already experienced abroad and elderly homes as they were understood to be locally, where residents would not have to move on if they became ill or bedridden.
Another innovation that was introduced at the time permitted residents to book short stays, be it a few days, weeks or months. This was a welcome initiative in respite care, because it allowed older persons to be cared for, while at the same time relieving their family members of their daily responsibilities.
Looking back, Cacciattolo, 63, says her life at Casa Arkati over the past 24 years has been a rich journey full of beautiful experiences and unforgettable faces.
“Working with the elderly was a tough experience at first. Seeing them all so frail filled me with terror. But, little by little, Casa Arkati and its residents became my second home and family,” says the mother of four and grandmother of five.
This was the beginning of a long and rewarding career.
Cacciattolo recalls the very first course for carers held in the home’s multipurpose hall, which today is the chapel.
“This intensive course was conducted by Laura Cascun, Casa Arkati’s first matron. At the time there were 20 of us, all part-timers. Tackling a number of interesting topics, such as heart attack symptoms, first aid, mobility and handling, the course helped me understand older life better.”
As time passed, Ciacciattolo learnt new things and gained more confidence, developing a true passion for nursing care and building beautiful relationships along the way.
“Casa Arkati was the best of the best. With its wide corridors, colour-coded fitted carpets on each floor, beautiful rooms and chic common areas where residents played cards and mingled, it was truly a ‘five-star hotel’ for the elderly.
“I admired our managers, who were really sharp and who passed down to us all their knowledge and knowhow. We were always taught that the customer is God. This has been, and always will be, my mantra.”
In 2002, Cacciattolo started working full time as an active ageing coordinator.
“I am a person who is on the go all the time. I know what I need, and I do it no matter what, so this job opportunity offered me the possibility to be even closer to the residents, encouraging them to be active, while also putting my nursing care background to good use.”
She vividly remembers the important milestones in Casa Arkati’s journey: its 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th anniversaries, as well as the yearly Talent Show, that “unique” day when residents baked kannoli for Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, then Minister for the Family and Social Solidarity, and, of course, Casa Arkati’s first Sports Rally in 2002.
“This event turned out to be such a success that it made it on the home’s annual calendar. About 30 residents enjoyed taking part in water games and a number of other activities, such as potato and sack races,” says Cacciattolo, who has seen it all and done it all – from flower arranging to building a stage, buying the garden statue of Our Lady of Lourdes from residents’ donations and having it blessed, sports days, quiz nights, filling water bottles with sand for weights during keep-fit sessions, cooking classes, swimming outings and pilgrimages.
“You need to motivate older persons with your energy in order to revive them. You cannot just adapt to their lifestyle, otherwise you will experience dull moments. I have certainly kept them busy throughout all these years.”
When one looks back at the innovative and enterprising Casa Arkati experiment initiated 27 years ago, one can safely say that this first private home paved the way for CareMalta, which kept building on its strengths, setting a high benchmark in today’s care sector.