United Methodist Communities at Collingswood: Mission-driven living for older adults

Growing older shouldn’t mean having to stop doing things that bring purpose and meaning to your life. At United Methodist Communities (UMC) in Collingswood, care revolves around providing residents the support they need to continue living on their own terms.  

“As a mission-based nonprofit organization, our higher purpose is to treat people how they want to be treated,” says Tamara Moreland, Executive Director of United Methodist Communities at Collingswood. “Care is not only individualized. We prioritize our residents’ needs and preferences above all else.”

This approach shapes daily living at UMC at Collingswood in big and small ways – from how staff speaks with residents (instead of “at them”) to the control residents have over their daily schedules: choosing when they want to wake up, take medicine or shower. It is also a driving force behind why the assisted-living halls are structured more like a modern college residence than a traditional senior living home, says Moreland. 

“Our households are much more person-directed, and centered around what residents want and need than the usual model of long-term care facilities,” she says, noting that the health care center and memory care are subdivided into “houses” where up to 20 individuals or couples share a common space connected to their independent apartments. “Residents appreciate the feel and the look of home and the sense of family and freedom that comes naturally with the set up,” she adds. 

Tamara Moreland

In these households, signs of institutional life are eliminated or hidden –  including nurses stations, food and medicine carts, industrial kitchen equipment and cleaning carts – while artwork and other decor that give living areas individuality and warmth are prominent. Behind the scenes, multi-disciplinary teams providing care include registered and licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants, social workers, chaplains, and physical, speech and occupational therapists. Nurses and aides deliver services around-the-clock.

Knowing the importance of staying closely connected to friends and family, UMC at Collingswood features multiple gathering spaces for in-person visits. Also, Wi-Fi technology enables digital communication between visits.

“We welcome families to come in,” she says. “Especially when people are new to residential living, the presence of family and friends can lessen fears about their new situation.”

While “resident-driven” and “person-directed” sound like modern inventions, it is based on concepts that have driven UM Communities’ approach to care since its founding. The organization’s motto, “living the abundant life,” is about making a difference in the lives of its communities, including residents, their families and employees.

United Methodist Communities’ roots go back to the post-Civil War days, when religious communities answered President Abraham Lincoln’s call to help widows and fatherless children. By the early 20th century, the religious organization established several “homes for the aged” in New Jersey. The organization now consists of 4 full-service facilities –  the others are in Pitman, Ocean City and Newton – as well as 5 affordable housing complexes and a home care agency. Residential services offered at the 4 full-service locations include independent living, assisted living, memory care, shorter-term respite care, nursing home services, rehabilitation and hospice. 

Each full-service care facility is designed as a continuum to allow residents access to multiple services under one roof. They also have a welcoming chapel and employ a fulltime chaplain to care for residents’ spiritual needs.” 

“We value all our resident’s religious beliefs,” Moreland says. “We do not only hold United Methodist services. We’re proud to be a welcoming environment for people of all faith traditions, backgrounds and needs.”

Faith and service are also factors that drive United Methodist Communities’ commitment to its employees, she says. “We truly value our team members and their ideas,” she says. “We survey them every year about their attitudes toward their work, the environment, training and opportunities for advancement.” The values-driven culture does not go unnoticed. United Methodist Communities has been certified for the past 5 years as a “Great Place to Work.”

For Moreland, who has spent the vast majority of her 35-year career working in leadership at senior living facilities, in both the for-profit and not-for-profit realms, her participation in UMC’s budgeting and long-term planning discussions has provided a deeper understanding of UMC values at work. Earnings that exceed UMC’s expenses go back into developing, maintaining and expanding the ministry, Moreland said. 

“At some of the for-profit facilities I’ve worked for, someone like me is handed a budget and told what to do,” says Moreland, who started at UMC at Collingswood last year. “Last month I met with our community’s team leaders to discuss our priorities, as leaders are all part of the budgeting process.”

In the same way that staff are involved in planning, UMC at Collingswood is structured to also give residents control of their lives. For example, residents only pay for services they require, with fully customized plans that can include meals, personal assistance, medical assistance and the option of social events and activities. Many residents use the fitness center and well-stocked library, and make the most of the community’s proximity to Collings-wood’s vibrant restaurants and shops just a few blocks up on Haddon Ave, Moreland says.

Tapestries Memory Care residents also receive care on their own terms. While each resident has a dedicated apartment, daily life largely occurs in the spacious common areas. Tasks and routines revolve around an everyday household setting. Because UMC at Collingswood recognizes that many residents with dementia still crave mental stimulation and enjoy taking part in social interactions, activities are planned around their interests, Moreland says. Among the memorable ones, she recently led a poetry circle that featured the works of 4 poets, from classics of the 17th century to more modern takes on love. 

“I had such a good time doing it and they loved it,” she says, noting that such mental stimulation prolongs independence. 

Long-term care, also known as skilled nursing, offers the highest care level both on a temporary or permanent basis. This setting offers treatment from licensed nurses 24 hours a day for individuals with complex and potentially serious medical conditions, rapidly changing health status or persistent health issues. Treatment may include wound dressing, rehabilitation, tube feeding and more.

UMC at Collingswood also provides short-term rehab for people who have been discharged from the hospital but are not yet ready to return home. Following surgery or an illness, care focuses on recuperation, rehabilitative therapy, general strengthening and medical treatment. It is housed in the skilled nursing residence to facilitate close monitoring in the least restrictive home-like apartment setting. Medicare and private health insurance plans are typically accepted.

Moreland says UMC at Collingswood’s ability to provide full service care, and its approach to care, were largely the reasons she wanted to work there. 

“At this point in my career, I’m grateful to be with an organization that is so mission and values driven,” she says. “It makes a huge difference.” 


460 Haddon Ave., Collingswood

Umcommunities.org | 856-854-4331