Author Archives: Jeff Smith

Excursions

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Larry and Sylvia have enjoyed most of their excursions since they moved into Vista Prairie at Brentwood in Rice Lake, Wisconsin last May. By far, their favorite was to the Northern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery, north of Rice Lake near Spooner. Sylvia has been there three times, and Larry twice.

“Stuck out among all the trees and cornfields is this beautiful tribute to the people in our country who have given their lives,” Sylvia says. “It was nice to see that it had that much impact on the locals and other people. You didn’t have to be from here.”

Following Sylvia’s solo introduction as part of an organized Brentwood trip, she and Larry went back to the cemetery* the next day. They also put it on the agenda for a visit from old friends from Madison, where Larry and Sylvia spent their working years and raised their kids.

Another excursion wasn’t quite what Sylvia expected. Curious about the borders of Brentwood’s hilltop property, she ventured out the back door for what she thought would be a short walk, without telling Larry or anyone else what she was up to. She soon was headed out of sight and down a hillside, which at the age of 86, was too steep for her to climb back up. “It wasn’t getting any better,” Sylvia recalls, “and finally I got tired, and I sat down on the grass and scooted along — all the way to the end of the property, which is where the staff found me.”

Picking up the story, Larry had become concerned when Sylvia did not appear for lunch. Among her other actions, Brentwood’s Executive Director, Rita Gronski had alerted the couple’s son Dane, an executive at WJMC Radio in Rice Lake, who headed over to the community. Activities Manager, Lee Ann Kritch, jumped in her car while other staffers looked closer to the building. Lee Ann soon spotted Sylvia from the car; Sylvia got in, and all was well.

After four months at Brentwood, Sylvia acknowledges the good food, the staff’s kindness, and the cleanliness of the community. But she stresses that initially, she did not want to leave the home she and Larry had built for their retirement years.

“I’d rather be somewhere else,” Sylvia says, “where I don’t know. The place that I loved is gone. So, it’s having to wrestle with those emotions. And they’re so extreme.”

Larry, at age 88, was more open to their life-changing excursion from the Madison area to Rice Lake. “Sooner or later, this decision had to be made,” he says. “You can’t live and support yourself your whole life. At some point, you need assisted living if you’re going to live to a big age.”

The Brentwood community offers options for residents on all sides of that spectrum, with 28 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who want options for personal care and supportive services along with their freedom of movement. We also offer 19 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

*Photo reprint with permission from the Spooner Advocate.

Listening to lead

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As a leader and caregiver for Vista Prairie at Copperleaf in Willmar, MN, Amanda Toutges relies on her listening skills. She’s pictured here learning how memory care resident Barb is getting along. She also listens to caregivers who report to her, as she pursues a progressive staffing strategy.

Amanda supervises about 60 Copperleaf resident assistants (RAs), as they provide individual care for residents. “I sit down and listen to them,” she says. “I’ll go around and ask everybody on the floor because I think they should have just as much say in things they’re gonna do, as me just changing it. I give that respect back to them and make sure they know I’m including them in my decision.”

Her leadership through listening is a key reason that Copperleaf is fully staffed. With lots of RA input, Amanda’s staffing innovations have made a significant difference in a geographic area where senior care communities have had challenges maintaining their staffing levels.

Amanda’s education includes her Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) certification in 2011 at Ridgewater College in Willmar. There, she also completed all but the testing phase to be a Registered Nurse. For five years before the pandemic hit, she was an LPN for the local CentraCare Clinic. “Then I had to go home and be a Kindergarten teacher for our five-year-old son.”

When her son’s school reopened, she interviewed with nine different health care organizations before she chose Copperleaf. “There’s something about the staff here – incredible,” she says. “Coming to work here every day, I feel like yesterday was my first day… like what can I do better? What can I learn? It’s a fun place to work. I love our old people.”

In addition to Copperleaf’s 55 assisted living apartments, Amanda also is responsible for ensuring that the community’s 24 memory care suites are staffed around the clock. The community also offers seven care-suites. While she’d like to be in all those places at once, she realizes that’s not possible.

Copperleaf’s Executive Director, Jennie Marcus comments that, along with the life complexities of each staff member, Amanda’s leadership supports an inclusive Copperleaf culture, “Her values and courage to create an inclusive environment are the reasons that our staff feels accepted, supported, and are thriving as exceptional caregivers.”

Copperleaf is in the process of a $1.4 million renovation throughout its public spaces, in the kitchen, and updates in the community’s memory care suites.

Still teaching, still learning

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Le is learning how to better navigate her cell phone, a constant companion. She moved to Vista Prairie at Fieldcrest in Sheldon, Iowa to be closer to two sisters and her physician, as they assist her in navigating the challenges of Parkinson’s Disease. That also is a constant learning experience.

She got her education degree at Augustana in Sioux Falls, SD, and for more than 30 years taught special education in a small school district in northern Minnesota, Kindergarten through high school. She and her ex-husband, also a teacher, lived and taught in Orr, MN, the gateway to Voyageur’s National Park.

“We lived in 10 acres of woods,” Le recounts. “We heated by wood and sawed our own lumber. At times we drug eight-foot lengths out of the forest.” It was a family affair, putting up wood for the winter, usually many cords for each heating season. They also had a large garden and butchered their own chickens.

Five years ago, Le traded tall trees for tall corn in northwest Iowa, where she’s now better equipped to cope with her Parkinson’s Disease. She’s hoping there will be some lessons from her trials for her two sisters and two brothers who are all younger.

Le devoted her entire career to helping kids with disabilities. Now, at the age of 77, she’s devoted to managing her own disability, “I try to do as many of my exercises as I can.” She says that while she would like access to a therapeutic heated swimming pool, the Fieldcrest community is meeting her psychosocial needs and it’s great to be close to family.

Fieldcrest offers 69 one- and two-bedroom assisted living apartments for seniors who need access to personal care and supportive services. We also offer 12 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Dazzling bouquets

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The brilliant dahlia next to Shari Rich is just one of the dazzling bouquets gracing dining tables at Vista Prairie at Monarch Meadows in North Mankato, MN. As the community’s activities manager, Shari recently collaborated with area gardener Sharon Chader on a joy-filled event.

“She has a huge garden full of flowers,” Shari explained. “She calls it ‘Lessons from the Garden.’ She donates all these flowers, and she doesn’t want to take anything home with her. She gives a little lesson as she’s putting bouquets together, and then she turns it over to the residents.”

Click here to see the result on Facebook. It’s Sharon’s ministry of beauty. It’s Shari’s way to help residents thrive.

“It was so much fun,” Shari says, beaming. “The joy on their faces… people who don’t usually smile… ‘just look at what I have,’” they say.

Events like this are just one of many ways Shari helps residents find their smiles and joy. She and her activities assistants conduct daily exercise for better physical health. And she’s an entertainer as well, with an unusual talent. Twenty-five years ago, she and her late husband got involved in puppet ministry in their church.

“We took our puppet team to a festival in the Twin Cities,” Shari remembers. “I saw someone do ventriloquism and I was hooked.”

These days, Shari uses her menagerie of puppets for her ventriloquist routines, “Mine are all animals, except for a pink girl, one of three main puppets,” she says. “There’s also a skunk; her name is Daisy. She’s fabulous. And then my alligator, the residents are going to meet this month.”

Shari concludes that when Monarch Meadows residents thrive, they are the dazzling bouquets for her.

“I like to find out what interests them, what their past interests were,” Shari explains. “Seeing their faces light up when they see you, that is just amazing. It’s about making a difference in their lives. I love it.”

One of our largest communities, Vista Prairie at Monarch Meadows offers 87 one-and-two-bedroom assisted living apartments and 11 care suites. We also provide two respite suites, for short-term care when home caregivers need a break. Call Maddy at (507) 933-4681 to book a tour.

Keeps on Ticking

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Maxine has been through her share of difficulties in the last four months, but you wouldn’t know it from her smile. The photo was taken as she had boarded a pontoon for a ride on Alexandria’s Lake Victoria. It’s again a regular activities option for Vista Prairie at Windmill Ponds.

Maxine, now 91, has been back at Windmill Ponds since June, following minor injuries from a fall. Her accident meant she’d need to go to a skilled nursing facility for rehab. While there she experienced more health problems that sent her back to the hospital in April and May.

Maxine says she needed to do “a lot of exercising” to regain her strength to be discharged from the nursing home and rejoin her friends at Windmill Ponds. “Everyone is so attentive here,” she says. It was worth the effort, “I love the staff,” she says and all the things to do.

“I’ve had a really busy morning,” Maxine remembers, “and I like that to keep busy.” The morning started with exercise for a half hour. Then she got in a little nap before lunch, followed by a worship service.

“I had never heard one of their services before and I thought he did a very, very good job.” While the service might not replicate her home church, Maxine agrees with her two daughters that it was time for her to seek a higher level of care than they could provide in her home, even though they lived on either side of her house in Alexandria. “Especially after that fall, I realized I should not be by myself anymore. I don’t think I could be in a better place.”

And as for the pontoon ride? “I thought it was great. I’ve been around Lake Victoria many, many times but you still see new things. It was a great boat ride.”

The pontoon rides are courtesy of the nonprofit Let’s Go Fishing program, with generous support from area businesses. Windmill Ponds offers assisted living in 65 one- and two-bedroom apartments, designed for seniors who enjoy an active social environment and expect high quality care.