The Right Stuff

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Monica Shelgren became the Director of Health Services (DOH) for Vista Prairie at Goldfinch Estates in Fairmont last February, one month before the coronavirus crises hit Minnesota. When Martin County erupted as a Minnesota hot spot for COVID-19 the Goldfinch staff demonstrated it had “the right stuff.” Monica applied 37 years of health care experience to guide the clinical response. During the first six-months of the crisis, Goldfinch has experienced only one positive COVID-19 test and that was in a staff member who had no symptoms.

“It’s a team effort here,” Monica says. “We also rely on the Vista Prairie support staff, especially Melissa, to provide current information from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.” She’s referring to Vista Prairie’s Organizational Director of Health Care Melissa Plachecki, who supports all the Vista Prairie communities. “She does a wonderful job and what we learn from her, we incorporate here,” Monica adds.

Goldfinch’s success in keeping residents safe comes with sacrifice. “My heart breaks for our residents and their families,” Monica reflects. “The inability to interact as we’re all accustomed to is overwhelming for the families. They understand the rules, but it doesn’t make it easy.” Thankfully, cases within the county have leveled off most recently and that trend will allow Goldfinch and other long-term care communities to welcome back family members who previously provided essential care to residents.

As one of the larger employers in Fairmont, with 88 full and part-time employees, Monica also acknowledges Goldfinch’s role in the community. “We come to work and go home, and it’s our responsibility to encourage our staff to remain educated and to follow the guidelines presented to all of us.”

Amid the stress, Monica says there’s still joy at Goldfinch, “I work with a wonderful group of people. Out of all the jobs I’ve had over my career, I feel the most rewarded with this one, and excited to come to work every day.” Monica specifically acknowledges the Goldfinch nursing staff, including three registered nurses and two licensed practical nurses.

“Being a native of Fairmont, I was familiar with Goldfinch Estates at a high level,” Monica explains. “It was highly recommended, and I was thrilled to take advantage of the opportunity.” The community offers 92 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who want access to supportive services. We also offer 41 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Equine engagement

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These hands have found harmony with many horses over a lifetime of 91 years. They belong to Truman, affectionally known as TD, a memory care resident of Vista Prairie at River Heights in South St. Paul, MN. Ara Schmidt developed a strong attachment with TD while she was a resident assistant in the memory care unit.

“I love all our memory care residents,” Ara explains. “But there was something about TD that just draws you in, especially when he starts talking about horses.”

In her first months at River Heights Ara recounts TD’s reaction when she showed him photos of horses. His family filled in the details that had escaped his memory. TD raised horses for many years, but was especially attached to one named Guy. In his apartment TD keeps a memory book full of photos and stories about “Guy the Wonder Horse.” TD called Guy his best friend for 32 years.

When River Heights promoted Ara to the activities assistant position, she soon hatched a plan sure to delight TD and all the residents. “I tapped my social media network for anybody who knew a source for equine therapy, using horses to awaken the senses,” Ara recounts. “Within a couple days I had two providers lined up.”

On August 5, Angie Vizenor was the first to roll up with a horse trailer transporting Magic and Manny, also pictured here. It was indeed a magical time, and only the latest example of River Heights’ imaginative efforts this summer to prevent isolation and keep residents engaged.

“We hope to make these visits an annual warm weather highlight,” says Ara. “The horse providers got as much joy out of the encounters as our residents did.”

In addition to its 16 memory care suites, River Heights offers assisted living in 44 apartments. Want to learn more about River Heights? Call Danielle at 651-326-6501. She would be happy to introduce you virtually to the whole dedicated staff, especially Ara.

Antidote for isolation

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Jeffrey Lauck’s title may be activity assistant but when he’s escorting Jean and other Vista Prairie at Copperleaf residents on their new Trishaw, he’s a pilot. And there will be many such rides to come as our Willmar, MN community enjoys its latest antidote for isolation.

“I love it!” Jean exclaims after the ride. “Going on this bike makes me feel so good.”

When the Trishaw arrived from its manufacturer in Copenhagen on June 23, it could not have been more welcome. The arrival culminated a $10,000 drive, with major funding provided by Willmar’s Vision 2040 organization, the United Way of West Central Minnesota, the Willmar Area Community Foundation and generous individual donors.

“Our residents are simply enjoying the great outdoors,” says Copperleaf Executive Director Jennie Marcus, who led the fundraising effort. “Appreciating nature, watching the frisbee golfers, people fishing, pelicans hunting fish, wildflower gardens, admiring the golf course and waiting for golfers to shoot a hole in one!”

With Copperleaf’s location near Robbins Island Park the opportunities will be limitless.

“The first time I saw the Trishaw bike, I thought here we go, that looks like fun,” recounts Evelyn, another resident. That’s high praise coming from a woman who has enjoyed a lifetime of powder puff racing on her snowmobile and still rides occasionally on a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

Evelyn went on to say, “Before COVID-19 I looked forward to taking the Copperleaf bus and going out for my groceries. That outing helped me feel more normal as far as being part of society. For me this bike has helped me feel free again.”

Getting ready to take residents for a Trishaw trip, requires two training sessions to be certified as a pilot. Most of that training is led by one of Copperleaf’s Registered Nurses, Ginna Calvin, an avid bike rider who inspired the idea for the community to obtain its own Trishaw.

Copperleaf senior living community offers 55 one-and-two-bedroom Assisted Living apartments, 20 Memory Care Suites and seven Care Suites, providing 24-hour continuous senior care.

Putting the pieces together

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Herb has solved some big puzzles during his 86 years, assembling the future from disjointed pieces of the present. Within Vista Prairie at Garnette Gardens he’s known for his puzzle prowess among other attributes. Shown here with Resident Assistant Janessa Whitaker, Herb has peace of mind these past five years despite the current challenging times.

“After my wife died, it’s been a blessing that I was here,” Herb says. “I talked to a friend at church who lost her spouse at the age of 69 and now she’s completely alone. It’s so important to have somebody. Folks tell me they want to stay in their house. I say, ‘what if something happens someday, and suddenly you need somebody right away and you’re all alone.’” 

Since Herb relocated from Wisconsin to Redwood Falls 46 years ago, his roots have grown deep. He devoted his first five years to managing the JCPenney store, while he and his wife raised their two daughters and a son. He followed that with a 16-year career at Thrivent, then known as Lutheran Brotherhood. He’s still in close touch with the children, their spouses and his seven grand kids.

“They know that I’ve got people here to talk to. For Christmas they bought me an iPad, and that was really nice because we can see each other,” Herb relates. “With the kids, I think we’ve been more in contact because I can see them.”

Herb volunteers that he talks up Garnette Gardens all the time, “People talk about staying at home when they get older,” he reflects. “Living in a community like this is actually easier on the entire family because they know you’re getting what you need. This is a community.”

Herb has sage wisdom for families with aging parents considering a move to assisted living – “Write things down and talk about it in advance, so all the issues are on the table.”

While Herb is still driving, he’s observed the rules that limit outside travel to essential medical needs. His biggest challenge has been not being able to go out to bible study. Still, he feels fortunate to be at Garnette Gardens. “The media hasn’t really told people what assisted living is,” he says.

The Garnette Gardens community offers 61 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who value their independence but want options for personal care and supportive services. We also offer 16 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Care Suites round out the options, offering enhanced care for people recovering from surgery or illness.

A passion for painting

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While painting was never Jan’s profession, it’s been her passion since she was a little girl. For about a year, Jan has been painting as a resident of Monarch Meadows in North Mankato, the last four months under coronavirus control conditions.

Jan devoted her career to health care, as a registered nurse and nursing supervisor. In addition to her own profession she married a physician, her high school sweetheart, in Ottumwa, Iowa. His death prompted her two daughters to find Monarch Meadows and move her in. While the transition was hard, Jan says she was impressed with Monarch’s cleanliness.

As Monarch became her home, she returned to painting.

“I’ve always loved art,” Jan reflects. “It began watching my dad sketch. My grandfather was a professional artist. I grew up hearing about his art and seeing his artwork.”

Jan, now 81, inherited her grandfather’s love of oil painting, which is also her favorite medium. She’s pictured here with her latest work, a still-life that was in her imagination before she created it on canvas.

“The pillow started it,” Jan explains about her most recent inspiration. “The fabric fascinated me. My last painting is always my favorite.”

Jan was no less passionate about her life-long career in healthcare, which she says influenced the adult art classes she taught later, educating students about the toxicity of paint. “I tried to encourage people who thought they had nothing to do with art to become personally involved with it.”

In the future, Jan may have another opportunity to pass along her passion. There’s talk of setting up an in-house art gallery where Jan and other Monarch artists can display their work. Please call for a visit to Monarch Meadows, located in North Mankato, MN. It’s one of our largest communities, with 86 one-and-two-bedroom assisted living apartments and 12 care suites.