Category Archives: Health & Wellness

20 Years of Compassion and Joy

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When resident Marv Diekerlers got his COVID-19 vaccination in January, he was part of the latest chapter in the 20-year history of Vista Prairie at Fieldcrest in Sheldon, Iowa. That history was the topic of this article by Justin Rust, managing editor of the Sheldon Mail-Sun, which we reprint here, with permission:

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Fieldcrest celebrates 20th anniversary – June 21, 2021

Providing a joy filled atmosphere is the goal of the staff at Vista Prairie at Fieldcrest Senior Living Community in Sheldon.

That goal was tested recently by the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the facility to close its doors to visitors for about a year to help protect the residents from a virus that harmed seniors the most.

It also left them isolated except for their interactions with the Fieldcrest staff and their fellow residents.

The goal didn’t change, though. It only amplified how important it was to remain joyful.

“We have remained positive and joyful and committed to having the best experience you can have,” said Fieldcrest senior executive director Calvin Diekmann. “Plus we are keeping them safe. We offered the vaccine and we have done just wonderful in the past 16 months.”

As the pandemic winds down, it comes as Fieldcrest is celebrating a major milestone since the facility at 2501 E. Sixth St. reached its 20th anniversary this past week.

A celebration was planned for Thursday, but a heat advisory forced the Fieldcrest staff to postpone it until Sept. 16. Diekmann and his staff didn’t want the residents to suffer from the extreme heat.

“Our main goal is to always serve the residents and help them live in a joy filled environment,” Diekmann said. “That’s always our main goal.”

When Fieldcrest was opened 20 years ago, it has 56 assisted living rooms. In 2014, 13 assisted living rooms were added along with 12 memory care apartments. That was the same year VistaPrairie became the ownership company of Fieldcrest.

Diekmann has been with Fieldcrest for nine years.

“By far my favorite part of this job is listening and visiting with the residents,” Diekmann said.

The residents are also Fieldcrest director of health and services Jennifer Roos’ favorite part of her job. She has been with Fieldcrest for seven years.

“No matter how bad your morning started, once you walk through the door, there’s a resident to greet you,” Roos said. “It changes your day. I love coming to work every day and I love my job. I love seeing them all.”

While the residents help the staff stay positive, keeping that same attitude was hard with the pandemic.

The staff knew it had to push through during the toughest stretch of the facility’s 20 years.

“Him and I, we had to stay positive because all of the staff was looking up to us. If they saw we weren’t being positive, it was huge for them as well,” Roos said. “So being positive and coming in every day, doing the best we could to keep the residents safe and happy and keep the staff safe as well. It wasn’t easy, it was hard every day, hard on the staff every day and we made it through.”

Roos gave credit to Judy Wallace, Fieldcrest’s activities manager, and Heidi Starkenburg, Wallace’s activity assistant, for keeping the residents in good spirits over the last year.

“I really saw Judy evolve throughout the pandemic because she had to change so much,” Roos said. “Heidi did one on ones with residents all day long. They were huge during the pandemic with really keeping their spirits up. There were no group activities during it. Judy would take arts and crafts to them and they had different games they would do with the residents.”

Diekmann added he had to watch for remote control cars since they would be racing down the hallways.

Fieldcrest opened back up to visitors in April and group activities resumed for residents a couple of months ago.

“Last week Judy and Heidi brought a bus full of residents to Hills Park. They had watermelon and there may have been a small water fight,” Diekmann said with a laugh. “They came back and some of them stopped by my office to say how much they enjoyed it. They are so glad we can do those things again.”

Wallace has even been able to bring back a fan favorite.

“She has an ice cream truck and the residents love the ice cream truck,” Roos said. “She has different flavors of ice cream and music they can play. It’s one of the residents favorites as well.”

With all of the amenities and activities Fieldcrest offers, Diekmann said the facility is “pretty unique.”

“We are the only assisted living facility in the area with full sized kitchens and two bedroom apartments,” Diekmann said. “Our staff is just amazing. They are so resident focused and we live the joy every day. During COVID, sure there would be good days and bad days but our staff always came back with a smile on their face. We have the most courageous staff ever. I am bias but that’s what I would say.”

Even with all that Fieldcrest has to offer, it’s the residents who impress Diekmann the most.

“I am just in awe every day when I come in here. It’s just so rewarding when a resident tells you thank you,” Diekmann said. “Or even if they are upset about something and we can fix it. It’s so amazing to see the happiness they have when the families got to come back in. To me, those are the big things.”

The community 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.

Devotion

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Throughout her life, 93-year-old LaVerne has been a devoted role model for her three kids and grand-kids. She moved into Vista Prairie at Windmill Ponds in Alexandria, MN during a difficult year. George, her beloved husband of 70 years, was in hospice at the time. And then there was COVID.

“It was really hard at first,” LaVerne recalls. “Things got a little better. I got to go see him every day. I spent from one to four in the afternoon. I looked forward to that; it was enjoyable.”

While she was able to see and say good-bye to George, who was in a separate location, other in-person family visits were not allowed during the height of COVID. Instead, some video technology helped LaVerne stay in touch with her far-flung three children, in the Twin Cities, Nebraska and Texas.

LaVerne’s Twin Cities daughter Cathy Woodward also knows something about devotion. She painted the rock that LaVerne is holding as a thank-you for Windmill Ponds’ quality care. Cathy also contributed her comments about the COVID crisis as part of a 2021 video produced by LeadingAge – Minnesota to recognize the state’s caregivers.

See the video, which honors all the caregivers in Minnesota. Cathy’s comments are about three minutes into the five-minute video if you’d like to fast forward.

Beyond family, LaVerne is devoted to the friends she’s made at Windmill Ponds this past year, “The ladies are so friendly and neighborly,” she says. “They have a movie once a week, so we go together, and we play cards.” LaVerne says she and her friends are going to sign up for the regular boat rides on Alexandria’s many local lakes.

“It’s gone surprisingly very well,” LaVerne says putting the year into perspective, “because of the friendly people. You don’t get a chance to get too lonesome because there’s always something going on. I enjoy it here very much. I wouldn’t want to be anyplace else.”

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.

Educator, nurse, joy promoter

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Aja Ross embodies all three identities on the staff for Vista Prairie at Goldfinch Estates in Fairmont, MN. Most recently and by popular demand, she’s escorted Lenny, her Bichon/Lhasa Apso mix – a source of plenty of joy for Goldfinch.

“He’s a little timid but once he gets past that, he’s a social butterfly,” Aja explains. “People just seem to light up when they see him.”

Now that the community is more open, with COVID-19 waning in Martin County, Lenny tags along with Aja (pronounced Asia) a few days each week. His coat is hypoallergenic, so no risk to residents — and he’s well compensated. “Sometimes the residents give him treats, his favorite form of payment,” Aja says, “and the back scratches and playing fetch with him.”

The pandemic’s fewer restrictions are a welcome transition for the whole Goldfinch community. Aja is thankful that the residents responded so well to the vaccinations.

“My guard still isn’t down. I was nervous when we opened up,” she says, “but that’s just the nurse in me.”

Aja brought her Med-Surg and ER experience at Mayo Clinic Health System-St. James Hospital to her new position as Goldfinch’s staff development nurse, responsible to ensure that the whole staff complies with the latest state health department requirements and Vista Prairie’s stringent policies for quality care. She’s now taken on the added responsibilities as the Director of Health Services, a position that still requires her to tap her earlier roots as an educator.

Career transitions are nothing new for Aja. In 2007 she started a one-year stint as a social studies teacher at Fairmont High School, before she decided to go back to college for her degree in nursing.

“The combination of being able to teach and still work as a nurse with staff development was perfect,” Aja says of her initial Goldfinch role. “I’m still using my nursing skills but I’m also teaching.” One of her earliest clinical training experiences in nursing school was at Goldfinch, and her grandpa lived there for a time, in memory care.

Goldfinch Estates offers 41 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. We also offer 92 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who want access to supportive services while maintaining their independence.

Sally is still Sally

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Lynn Buckley’s expression describes the difference in today’s care for people with dementia as opposed to former methods prevalent in her field of expertise. For the last two years, Lynn has managed the memory care suites at Vista Prairie at Garnette Gardens in Redwood Falls, MN. She and the staff she manages provide long-term care for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia.

“That person is still there,” Lynn emphasizes, referring to the folks they care for. “They’re just not able to communicate with us in the way they used to. We need to know them as a person, their likes and dislikes, their life history. Knowing those pieces can help our whole approach to caring for somebody, including which interventions are better for certain behaviors.”

Lynn recently became a Certified Dementia Care Specialist. The CDCS certification involves specialized training in the latest standards and techniques for caring for patients and clients diagnosed with Dementia.

“Dementia is not a disease in itself. There are several diseases that involve dementia,” Lynn explains. “We need to educate people about the basic signs of dementia to get an early diagnosis.”

Lynn’s CDCS certification equips her to present several courses, some through the Alzheimer’s Association, which she plans to offer to community education in the local school district and in several other area venues. 

“I’ve always had a passion to work with older adults,” says Lynn, a Licensed Practical Nurse who started as a nursing assistant in high school. She went on to manage a hospital adult day program for 25 years before she joined Vista Prairie.

Lynn likes the direction that dementia-care is going, “It’s a whole culture change. You’re looking at behavior management methods other than medication. Back in the ‘80s we were supposed to bring clients back to reality. Well, that didn’t work. Now we just enter their reality. That’s person centered.”  

In addition to its 16 memory care suites, the Garnette Gardens community offers 61 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who value their independence but want options for personal care and the supportive services they need. Care Suites round out the options, offering enhanced care for people recovering from surgery or illness.

Respect for mom, and virus

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Carla Starkenburg is one of many adults now in the role of caring for an aging parent. Carla’s mom Jennie (left) is a resident of Vista Prairie at Fieldcrest in Sheldon, Iowa. This role reversal took on new meaning in February when Carla, a registered nurse for O’Brien County Public Health, administered two rounds of COVID-19 vaccine to Jennie, along with other residents and staff.

“Just to know that she’s got the extra protection now, with the vaccine, it was a good feeling to be a part of that,” Carla says. She’s one of six children, including five older brothers.

A good feeling for 95-year-old Jennie too, since she recovered from COVID-19 back in October. Jennie and Carla’s father moved into Fieldcrest more than six years ago. He passed away in 2017 after 72 years of marriage.

Carla says she and her fellow O’Brien County nurse have delivered more than 2,500 vaccinations since December, with people coming to their offices, doing clinics in places like Fieldcrest and most recently for teachers in the schools in O’Brien County. “It’s been very challenging but very rewarding at the same time, because we know it’s all for good,” Carla sums up.

So, with the vaccine now being more widely administered, does that mean we can get back to normal visiting practices in places like Fieldcrest? Carla urges more patience, “We still have to be very cautious. I feel like we have to respect the virus. It’s real. We have to be cautious with how we are in our communities.”

Still, Carla is confident that Jennie is in the right spot at Fieldcrest, “I feel like she’s getting wonderful care. The staff has been wonderful. When things were closed and we couldn’t come and go as we wanted to, was I upset? Yes,” Carla reflects. “But we knew it was for the best to take care of the people who are living there, to protect their residents. We knew that and I knew that.”

There are encouraging signs at Fieldcrest, with the resumption of weekly clergy-led worship services and more social activities, still with virus precautions. The community 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.