Senior Residence experiences/perspectives

My 75year old mother is considering moving into a senior residence in the following areas: El Cerrito, Albany, Berkeley, Rockridge-Piedmont Oakland.

We have looked at Merrill Gardens, Belmont, St. Paul’s and Piedmont Gardens.

She needs a 1 bedroom with a private patio (no patio has been a deal breaker).  A residence that has a lot of natural lighting is important.

Assisted Living & memory care are also needed for the future.  Right now it’s more socialization and not dealing with caring for her own house alone.

Any recent experiences with Merrill Gardens? Belmont or Piedmont Gardens?  Merrill Gardens hit a lot of her desires, but it seemed a bit dirty and the staff a bit unprofessional -not saying hello/goodbye-or on their phones when we when we toured recently.  Ie. soap dispensers empty, raggedy signs in the common bathrooms, stained carpet, poorly cleaned apartments that were being “shown” as possible units.  Maybe as a watchful adult child I’m being too picky?

Any other residences you would recommend in the areas listed? Money is not really an issue.  It’s more location and the private patio.

grateful for your responses and honest opinions!

Parent Replies

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I recommend contacting a Geriatric Care Manager.  For the price of their fee for an hour, you would get very current information on the places to consider. Because they regularly visit clients in these facilities, they have a deep understanding of which ones would fit your criteria and would best for your mother. We've worked with Christina Henrikson (510-427-1813 and chcaremgmt [at] for exactly this issue, although we were looking at memory-care facilities not senior residences.  She mentioned that these types of facilities change owners relatively frequently, and that the quality of care can change dramatically when that happens - so beware of recommendations that are not recent. 

My mother will be moving into St. Paul's Towers this summer, so I've just gone through this search process.  I looked at several of the places you mentioned -- one that's not on your list but worth a look is Lake Park in Oakland.  Like St. Paul's, it's a long-established non-profit with access to all the levels of care she might eventually need.  Every apartment I saw at Lake Park had a balcony, some with views of Lake Merritt.  The whole place looked very clean and well maintained, and it's less expensive than some places I toured.  In the end it came down to St. Paul's or Lake Park and we just had to pick one, but honestly they both seem lovely to me.  Good luck with your search.

You might want to expand your search area eastward.  That may not work if your mother is intent on staying this side of the hills, which I can completely understand since it was why I did NOT try to move mine from Walnut Creek.  Where the friends & visitors still live is very important.  If you are willing to look that far afield, I recommend checking out the three Atria places:  one is on the Lafayette/Pleasant Hill order; one is out by Rossmoor; and the third is near John Muir WC.  Each have ground floor units with patios, but there could be a wait.  Walnut Creek at least has balconies.  I can't recall whether all the Lafayette places did.  Mom spent time at both Lafayette and WC.  Neither was perfect, but the staff at both were very professional, and the facilities made it easy for Mom to transfer from a 2BR apartment on her own to a 1BR unit with kitchenette.  If you want to chat more, email me either through this site or to my user name as a gmail address.  Good luck.  This is not an easy thing to do -- even when your parent says she's ready.  ATS

Some senior residences will move the resident to the next level of care, e.g. from independent living to assisted living, from assisted living to nursing care, when the lower level of care space is needed for a new resident. Please read your contract carefully, as the management decision may override the resident's or family's opinion. Anyway, this is what I have heard.

Hi -  I don't know Merrill Gardens or Belmont at all. Piedmont Gardens and St Paul's towers have  good reputations. Take a look at Chapparal House in Berkeley. They have a lovely outdoor garden. Can't remember if there are individual patios or not. 

Good luck


This is probably too far for you, but I wanted to share because we are having such a good experience with Tiffany Court (925) 933-5555 in Walnut Creek. I was very concerned about moving my aunt, but it was the right decision...she is very happy there. She loves the staff...they make all the residents feel special. Also, she has been happy with the food. She requested a few items when she moved in and they added them to their menu. Also, they have rooms with small patios and I feel everything is very clean. The facility is located a few blocks away from Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek. If it's not too far for you, I encourage you to visit and talk with some of the residents. 

You are not being too picky! I moved my dad into Merrill Gardens Rockridge in July 2017. I would not recommend it. The two positive things are the facility. It was brand new when he moved in, and although it is now dirty in places, it still is one of the nicest facilities. Second, he has met a lot of interesting and kind residents there.

There are a lot more negatives, though. In less than two years MG has had five general managers. The staff turnover at all levels is astounding. The current general manager is named Daniel, and he is experienced and kind. The prior manager was Linda. She also was experienced and kind. Daniel, like the ones before him, won't last long. He will realize that he needs more staff and money to make it run properly, but upper management won't agree to spend the money. The headquarters are in Seattle, and Merrill Gardens is privately owned. The top people only care about the bottom line (making money), and I am guessing that is why the staff turns over so frequently. The caregivers are paid minimum wage, their hours are constantly being changed and/or cut to reduce costs. Their jobs are high stress for the little amount they are paid. My father has limited mobility and needs help getting in and out of bed, dressing, toilet, etc. Several mornings per month no one shows up at his set time of 7am, especially on the weekends, and so he is stuck in bed until 8:30+ waiting. The response time when he pushes his pendant is inconsistent. There often seems to be a "problem with the pendants," and they often don't seem to "work." I think MG doesn't want to admit they don't have enough staff to respond. Over night they only have one staff person on duty, but they will tell you that they have 2 or 3 staff. It someone has an emergency, there's no one to help others. This has happened several times that I have heard.

The facility is about two years old, and it is showing signs of wear and tear. They said they are replacing some of the carpets by the elevators. The bathrooms in the common area are filthy. Again, they don't have enough staff and want to cut costs. Overall the quality of food is good, but the dining room can be problematic. They have had several different chefs, and the dining room staff turns over quickly, so the service and experience can vary greatly.    

I have heard that St. Paul's is great. I did not look at it because residents must start there in Independent Living, and my dad needs Assisted Living. I think finding a place that is not for profit probably makes a big difference. There is a buy-in at St. Paul's, but the service is probably much better, and the staff turnover low. My mother recently moved to a Senior Residence in another state, which is non-profit and has a buy-in. The difference between her place and MG is like night and day. The service is exceptional. The staff have worked there for years and years. I wish I had found a place like that around here for my father. I have thought about moving him elsewhere, but at this point he is too old (almost 93) and frail to move, and MG is very close to me. It is upsetting, though, to see him not getting the care he needs and that he is paying for.

Good luck!

Hi, I am a therapist working in home health and frequently visit with patients in the area. For what you have listed, I would definitely say Merrill Gardens is not a good fit based on the current and future needs, especially if a concern with memory. St. Paul’s has some very nice aspects but it is big, I would worry about memory needs down the road but it does have some very nice units, patios, close to the Lake, etc. One of my favorites (though not as fancy but still nice) is Grand Lake Gardens—good folks working there who seem to truly care about the residents. 

You mentioned money not being a concern, another option might be to look for independent and assisted living options and then to hire a caregiver if/when more assistance and supervision is needed, I’ve seen this work out very well for folks I have worked with when they have the means.

Have you checked out Water’s Edge in Alameda? 

I think it is very very hard to find a spot that does a good job in all three areas—I would say focus on independent and assisted living needs and maybe not as much on memory care until you are at that point—it sounds like your Mom is looking to be happy where she is currently in life with her outside patio. :)

Hi there- I moved my mom here from the East Coast about a year ago.  She's at Grand Lake Gardens in Oakland, the sister facility to Piedmont Gardens.  If your mom can live independently, this is a great option and they offer a lot of social activities, great location, too.  Services can be tiered up, such as paying for medication disbursement on a daily basis, and then she can eventually move to Piedmont Gardens when she needs more memory care and assisted living.   it's a non-profit, which I really like a lot.  Units are updated, and spotless, overall I am very happy with this choice.  Feel free to contact me if you have specific questions.  

You might want to check out The Waterford at Rossmoor. There are units with balconies/small patios; and good food in the communal dining rooms. There are various unit layout designs at the Waterford. A friend of mine had her parents (at the time 70 & 81) move in after living in one of the “active retirement” units. Making the switch was not so disruptive (they were able to continue with friends made at Rossmoor & clubs - of which there were many). My friend lives in Lafayette, so visiting her parents was a stone’s throw. She was very happy with the Waterford maintenance & care her parents received - they were still ambulatory, just frail and on various medicinal regimens. I visited once and it looked very well kept; her parent’s unit was about 900 sq ft. and consisted of bedroom, living room, bath, small kitchenette and balcony. If you live in Berkeley - it’s about 30 minutes through the Caldicott Tunnel (non-peak hours). This was about 3 years ago; I understand there is a new CEO at Rossmoor. Hope they have continued the quality of the service & facility. Good luck in your search!