Author Archives: Jeff Smith

First Impressions

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Anna Petersmeyer visited Vista Prairie at River Heights just a week after she assumed her new role as Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Vista Prairie Communities (VPC). Unfortunately, the visit was cut short. Our community in South St. Paul had just learned of a positive COVID-19 test in a staff member. All non-essential visits were halted.

In her initial two weeks on the job, it was a strong first impression for the veteran senior housing executive. She’s taking on a daunting responsibility to ensure safety and compliance with a myriad of health care policies from multiple agencies. That visit also was a dose of déjà vu.

“My River Heights visit was a homecoming of sorts,” Anna recalled. “In 2003, I managed River Heights when it was owned by a different long-term care organization. It was great to be back there to see the care and thorough precautions being provided during the pandemic.”

Anna brings a wealth of experience to Vista Prairie. She came from Volunteers of America – Minnesota and Wisconsin where she served for more than eight years, the last three as that organization’s Chief Operating Officer. At VPC she will be responsible to lead our assisted living and memory care services for the residents of all our communities, working closely with and leading the executive directors in each community, as well as our clinical staff.

“One of my great joys will be to further refine and develop our plans to ensure an exceptional lifestyle for our residents,” says Anna.

She is well suited for that visionary role and for the locations of our communities. Anna grew up farming in rural Wisconsin. She remains a self-proclaimed ‘farm girl’ and is a Licensed Social Worker. She also has served on LeadingAge’s Housing, Home Care & Assisted Living and HUD/Affordable Housing Committees.

Anna received the 2015 Leadership Award from National Volunteers of America for outstanding operational management in Housing, Older Adult Services and Assisted Living. She holds a BA in Social Work from University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MBA from Bethel University.

Welcome aboard Anna, and by the way – today is her birthday!

Vote for Vista Prairie

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With more than nine years of appetizing service for Vista Prairie at Monarch Meadows, Chef Barry Ahl is the senior Culinary Manager among all his peers at our eight communities. While he’s not running for office, his involvement in the Mankato area has earned wide community support.

Among Monarch’s unique features, Chef Barry and Executive Director Andrea Rupe have a virtual culinary demonstration on the drawing board, where residents, family members and the public can get help in preparing favorite holiday dishes. They’re planning the first installment this month.

“I can show them how really basic and easy it is to make a traditional Thanksgiving meal, right down to the homemade cranberries and giblet gravy,” says Chef Barry. “You know, some people don’t even know how to dress a turkey.”

The Monarch dining room recently opened for residents to have their meals, spaced one person per table, after a summer where all meals were delivered to each apartment – to ensure healthy nutrition.

“We made sure that we were taking care of every resident, one by one, going into their apartment, making sure that they ate three meals a day and a snack.”

Now that the dining room is reopened, the residents are delighted to see more of each other.

“One lady come up to me and said – ‘This is the best meal I’ve had nine years.’ Everybody’s walking around and smiling so I’m kind of like Santa Claus, because every day I get to cook really good meals,” Barry reflects. “That puts a smile on their face. That’s what joy basically is — with a smile or getting a compliment or getting a wink.”

Can we count your vote for Vista Prairie at Monarch Meadows? Call 507-386-2451 to book a tour. Monarch Meadows, located in North Mankato, MN is one of our largest communities, with 86 one-and-two-bedroom assisted living apartments and 12 care suites.

An oasis in the side pocket

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Here’s a riddle. When can a pool table be a concession for both candy and hair conditioner? Vista Prairie at Fieldcrest in Sheldon, Iowa has the answer. Once a month, Jan, a four-year Fieldcrest resident converts the community’s game room pool table to a pop-up store covered with convenience items that residents want most.

Fieldcrest activities manager Judy Wallace remembers Jan’s reaction when she recruited her to manage the store, “She said ‘Yes I’ll do it. I think it’ll be fun.’ Toothbrushes and toothpaste, those are the necessities, but the candy is what really flies out of there,” Judy reports.

Initially, it was fun for Jan and for the residents to have another outlet, “It gets them out of their apartments to another area to socialize. Seeing other people helps us mingle and feel connected,” Jan reflects.

But having a social oasis hasn’t replaced the family interaction that residents miss so dearly since the coronavirus hit. “It breaks my heart that I can’t see them as often as I’d like,” says Jan. With the pandemic now seven months old, Jan feels lonesome and yearns for family visits free of time limits and conditions. With positive tests still high in Northwest Iowa, it’s a prevalent feeling among all residents and staff. Fieldcrest would like nothing more than to open up, as soon as it’s safe.

“It’s harder than I could have ever, ever, ever expected,” says Judy. “Being on the front line every day is very challenging. I’ve cried more tears than I knew were possible.” Still, she’ll keep coming up with innovative ideas to help residents feel engaged and part of the community.

Fieldcrest Assisted Living 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.

Communion

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Communion has many meanings for Audrie, shown on the right. This past summer she’s been communing with her two daughters who also live in Alexandria, MN. Peggy and Connie are pictured here during a gazebo visit to Vista Prairie at Windmill Ponds*, where Audrie has lived for the past year.

More recently a communion Audrie holds most dear, the Catholic Eucharist, was served by a local priest in the parking lot. “The hardest thing for my mom is not being able to go to church,” Connie said during a recent Windmill Ponds visit.

As the pandemic has evolved, so have the options for Audrie’s daughters to stay in touch. The visits started virtually and will progress to periodic assistance in Audrie’s apartment as Connie and Peggy apply to be essential caregivers. Still, they’ll be required to stay physically distant.

“It is hard, but I think it would be worse to give her a hug and then have someone get sick,” says Peggy. “At the end of the day, that’s the bottom line.” The daughters, who are among nine siblings, understand the need for safety in a regulated environment. Peggy was an elementary school teacher. Connie ran a day-care center.

“We both understand this accountability, having to keep people safe,” Connie reflects. They also appreciate Windmill Ponds’ extra efforts to combat loneliness. “I was very pleased that they started these bus rides,” Connie continues. “It’s a way to get out but they’re still with their community. They were able to social distance on the bus.” Activity Director Chris Mattson is the chauffer for the Tuesday – Thursday jaunts around the area in the community’s bus.

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.

*editor’s note — Windmill Ponds will resume outdoor visits, weather permitting, and in compliance with Minnesota Department of Health guidelines.

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.