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Region offers continuum of care for seniors

Tamera Manzanares

From meals and help at home to assisted living and 24-hour care, various facilities and organizations are helping meet the needs of a growing senior citizen population in the Yampa Valley.

“For the rural area we’re in, we’re lucky to have such a continuum of care,” said Lee Dickey, nurse manager at the Doak Walker Care Center, a skilled nursing facility in Steamboat Springs.

The center, which has been part of the Yampa Valley Medical Center since 1979, specializes in long-term, 24-hour care and short-term recovery stays for adults of any age, though most residents at the center are elderly.

In the past, strict federal and state regulations have given nursing facilities a reputation for rigid schedules and limited personal choices, but the Doak Walker Care Center is riding a wave of “culture change,” hospital spokeswoman Christine McKelvie said.

The culture change model offers a more personal approach to care that uses various activities and programs to stimulate healing and contentment in the residents, Dickey explained.

“What you do with culture change is try to help keep them growing,” she said.

The center put the first pieces of the model in place more than 20 years ago with the GrandKids Child Care Center, which matches willing residents with children through the Special Friends program.

A resident dog, aviary, summer garden and plethora of houseplants are other aspects of the center giving residents the opportunity to be caregivers.

“It does a whole lot for boredom, loneliness and some of the helplessness of being here,” Dickey said.

A book club, pie socials, bread making and weekly buffets with employees are among other activities that not only give residents a more homey feeling but also help them connect with staff members, Dickey said.

Specific nurses and staff are assigned to a set group of residents, helping facilitate ongoing relationships between residents and their caregivers.

Though the center almost has reached its 59-patient capacity, there usually is not a waiting list to get in, Dickey said.

Costs range from $165 to $210 a day depending on the type of room. Residents typically pay with private funds or with Medicaid benefits. The process of applying for Medicaid can be lengthy, so families should research their options and plan ahead, officials with the center said.

The Haven assisted living center in Hayden offers a more independent living situation for seniors who generally can take care of themselves and do not require 24-hour nurse care.

Residents at The Haven have private or shared rooms and eat meals together in the center’s dining room. They also have access to the center’s kitchen and snacks always are available, director Karen Burley said.

There are no nurses on staff, but the center has qualified personnel to administer medication and keep track of any health issues.

The staff also is trained to recognize heart attacks, breathing problems and acute issues.

In addition to doctor visits at the clinic once a week, The Haven also will take residents to doctors’ appointments in Craig or Steamboat.

Activities and programs at The Haven are designed create a home-like atmosphere for residents.

“We try to take whatever they were doing at home and duplicate it here,” Burley said.

In addition to shopping trips and library visits, an activities director helps arrange for visits from school children as well as Strings in the Mountains shows and other entertainment at The Haven, Burley said.

The Haven has a capacity of 20 residents. There are 16 residents at the center. Rates are $1,900 a month for a shared room or $2,210 a month for a private room.

The center also has a respite room designed for short-term stays for rehabilitation or situations in which a senior citizen needs somewhere to stay when family caregivers are out of town.

The West Routt Rural Health Council Inc. built The Haven in 1996 and operates the center. The organization is collaborating with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association to raise money to cover the center’s debts and create reserve operating funds.

Eventually, the VNA plans to merge with The Haven, using the center as a platform to broaden senior services in the Yampa Valley.

“We feel it is very important for seniors to have options for their caring and living environment as they age,” VNA director Sue Birch said.

In addition to more nursing home and assisted living beds, the valley needs more respite beds and hospice care, as well as senior day care services, which are not available in the area, she said.

The VNA offers the only home health service in the valley. The services are for homebound patients needing assistance in their home. The VNA also provides physical and occupational therapy, nursing care and medication management in patients’ homes, said Jan Fritz, VNA director of home care.

Teams of spiritual caregivers, nurses, therapists and volunteers also provide home hospice services to terminally ill patients in Steamboat and Craig.

Payment is determined on an individual basis, but the VNA won’t deny service to people who can’t pay, Fritz said.

“If they need the service we get them the service,” she said.

Most insurance has allowances for home health and hospice services and the VNA works with patients to help them understand any benefits that may be available, Fritz said.

In addition to home health services, the VNA also offers “Oldster Clinics” where senior citizens can get medical check ups and nutrition advice.

Cooking meals and finding ways to run errands and get to the doctor are among the biggest challenges facing seniors living by themselves.

The Routt County Council on Aging helps address such issues with its meal and transportation services.

Funded by the federal Older Americans Act, the 27-year-old organization brings hot meals to residents 60 or older through its Meals on Wheels program and also offers congregate meals three to four days a week in Steamboat, Hayden and South Routt.

In 2003, the nutrition program served more than 2,200 meals to 87 seniors throughout the county. The organization has surpassed that number this year, director Shelley Orrell said.

“The senior population in Routt County is truly growing,” said Orrell, who is also a local advocate for residents in long-term care facilities and works to protect their rights in problematic situation

The council provides transportation to and from meal sites and also offers weekly trips to grocery stores and doctors’ offices. Though there are small suggested donations for meals and transportation, residents won’t be denied services if they are unable to pay.

Schedules and locations for congregate meals, as well as information about the council’s other programs is published in a monthly newsletter. Call the council’s office to get on that mailing list.


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