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‘We are family when their family is not around’: Butterfly Gardens provides a home for dependent adults

Residents share a moment at the Butterfly Gardens assisted-living home.
Residents share a moment at the Butterfly Gardens assisted-living home.
(Courtesy of Leo Espinosa)

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At Butterfly Gardens, there’s something to the assisted-living facility that makes it feel more like a home than simply a house. There are home-cooked meals, a small number of residents at any given time, the opportunity for individualism in room aesthetics and care, and more.

Butterfly Gardens, located in a house at 5557 Soledad Mountain Road, is managed by nurses who provide dependent adults with round-the-clock care in a cozier environment than a hospital or another large-scale facility, with residency limited to six people at a time.

“We focus more on comfort and dignity in an intimate surrounding rather than a sterile institutional setting,” said owner and manager Leo Espinosa.

Services include observation, care and supervision as required; assistance as needed with taking prescribed medication in accord with a physician’s instructions; collaboration with auxiliary medical needs such as doctor’s appointments, home health and rehabilitation; bedside care for temporary illnesses; third-party consultation for palliative and hospice care; assistance with daily activities such as grooming, dressing and personal hygiene); notification to family members and other appropriate people or agencies about a client’s needs; daily meals and snacks and more.

Butterfly Gardens is in a house on Soledad Mountain Road in La Jolla.
Butterfly Gardens is in a house on Soledad Mountain Road in La Jolla.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

“When they are in a dependent state, we jump in as caregivers. Sometimes we are family when their family is not around,” Espinosa said.

This was especially true during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when family visitation was limited. “We immediately became family,” he said. “We had people out of state or out of the county that couldn’t come in, so we had to take on that role.

“It put us to the test and affirmed that our services are needed. It reminded us why we exist. ... My staff has been with me since 2012, and thank God. That was a very challenging time for everyone, but in health care the most difficult situation was to not open up to all visitors. The moment [health authorities] said we could, we made arrangements. The isolation was the most difficult part.”

As a one-story facility, “window visits” were easier to accommodate for those with mobility issues, he said.

Limiting unnecessary moving is another focus in Butterfly Gardens’ management. “We cater to the frail elderly people that have been moved around from home to hospital to rehab and so forth,” Espinosa said. “Because we are nurses, our goal is to prevent those traumatic or costly moves and ER visits, and we have been successful with that.”

“When somebody is dependent on someone, it’s an honor and privilege for us to be that someone and keep it as graceful as possible,” Espinosa added. "[The industry] tends to focus more on intervening and correcting things. You don’t want a butterfly to emerge from its cocoon prematurely or it will die. We want them to follow the natural order of things and intervene as little as possible.”

That also means allowing the residents to be themselves and cater to their individual needs.

“That’s what separates us from the big places — you don’t have to go through a lot of chains of people to get customized care. Physically it is a home, and the resident’s movement is not based on a schedule that everyone has to follow. I have a client who just filled her room with family pictures; that makes it a home for her. There is not a blank spot of wall in her room. They can be themselves here.”

Butterfly Gardens, which opened in 2006, is currently full. To learn more, visit butterflygardenslajolla.net, call (760) 580-7243 or email butterflygardenslajolla@yahoo.com.

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