Category Archives: Meet the Team

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.

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.