Category Archives: News & Events

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.

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.

BFFs to the rescue

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If your best friend forever (BFF) is a herpetologist for a zoo, Gary has some advice for you. Be ready for some unusual adventures. Gary recently brought the newspaper account of one famous escapade to his new home, Vista Prairie at River Heights, in South St. Paul.

The 1963 stories picture Gary’s role in helping BFF Bob Duerr recover an 11-foot-long crocodile from St. Paul’s Lake Phalen. Bob got the call when someone spotted the croc and quickly surmised that it had been stolen from the nearby Como Zoo. Bob was the zoo’s expert in reptiles and amphibians at the time. Gary set the springtime scene, which was around high school graduation.

“Some kids drove their car right over the fence at the zoo and lassoed the croc from a moat filled with water,” Gary remembers. “Then they did a really dangerous thing. Of all the places to take it, Lake Phalen, the playground for the kids.”

When Gary arrived at the lake Bob was already in the water, in the process of capturing the croc. Bob suffered a nasty slash on his arm so Gary took over, as the photo shows, and subdued the croc until it could be transported back to safe surroundings.

An accomplished writer, Gary described the aftermath of their adventure in an essay about his life, “My first and second grade daughters dipped into their piggy banks and bought several copies of the morning papers, both St. Paul and Minneapolis, with the whole story, complete with lots of pictures. They cut out the stories and took them to school and boasted and bragged and went on about their dad.”

After a life of ups and downs, one of his four daughters recently helped Gary move into Vista Prairie at River Heights. At the age of 84, he feels secure and well cared for. Want to learn more about River Heights? Call Danielle at 651-326-6501.

Painting Memories

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While Josie Olander’s service helps awaken the senses of Copperleaf residents, she didn’t expect it to include painting a mural on one of the memory care unit’s walls. Executive Director Jennie Marcus had the idea, and Josie, who joined the staff a little over a year ago, made it happen. She painted a couple hours at night, starting around Thanksgiving and going into early December — after her regular evening shift ended.

“A farm scene came to mind,” Josie says about the process. “I come from a family of farmers; my grandpa was a farmer and my uncle still is, in Renville County.”

Several memory care residents chatted as Josie created during the three-week sketching and painting process. She remembers one who had especially valuable advice. “He raised horses and his information flowed out as he stepped back into that role. It was just awesome,” she remembers. “He also taught architectural drafting… so when I was drawing the barn, he had some legitimate pointers on my perspective.”  And perhaps the ultimate affirmation for an artist – “the resident said the mural brings a lot of life to the place.”

Josie’s resident assistant role takes her to all three Copperleaf choices: assisted living, care suites and memory care. “I just want to help out where needed,” she explains. Variety in her work is a theme. During the day she’s a para-professional at Dream Technical Academy in Willmar, providing an opportunity to practice her professional skills with high school youth as well.

Josie also responded to some self-imposed pressure – completing the mural in time for the annual Copperleaf holiday party. “I stayed that night until about two in the morning, but I got it done!”

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

Gifts for Very Special People

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This Vista Prairie at River Heights patio in South St. Paul is a peaceful oasis outside our Memory Care services there. Memory Care is available in our Minnesota communities in Fairmont, Redwood Falls and Willmar as well, and in Sheldon, Iowa.

Lynn Buckley is the Memory Care and Care Suites Manager for Vista Prairie at Garnette Gardens in Redwood Falls, and an expert in this field. During this holiday season, Lynn offers some helpful gift advice to you, for people on your list who have dementia.

The first and most important tip is to know what stage of the process your loved one is in. Your care professional can easily answer this question for you. Buying a gift for a loved one in the early stages of dementia can be very different from buying a gift for someone in the late stages. These suggestions are grouped according to the stages of dementia:

Early Stage:

  • Activity books, like crossword puzzles or strategy books, adult color books, color pencils
  • DVD’s of classic movies, TV shows or music that your loved one likes
  • A photo album or a family event calendar with photos of family members
  • A memory phone where photos and phone numbers of loved ones can be stored
  • Digital photo frame
  • A clock with digital time, date and day
  • Personalized video of family member and friends
  • Transportation gift cards
  • Familiar books
  • Box of cards with stamped envelopes
  • Transfer old family videos, photos and slides onto a digital recording
  • Gift card for Meals on Wheels or at a local senior dining opportunity
  • Favorite sports team memorabilia

These items will help stimulate your loved one to reminisce.

Middle Stage:

  • Automatic night lights that turn on and off with movement
  • A clock with digital time, date and day
  • An automatic pill dispenser if your loved one resides in their home
  • Simple craft items that will spark your loved one to reminisce
  • Scented lotions and bath soaps
  • Larger print books
  • A bird feeder

Late Stage:

  • Slippers
  • Weighted lap blanket
  • Fidget toys
  • Stuffed animal
  • Warm soft lap blanket

Finally — the best gift for all stages is your time!

The primary focus of our Memory Care services in Minnesota and Iowa is to provide an attentive and caring environment for seniors dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. Our program is full of activities that help relieve the anxiety, confusion and frustration that impact residents’ lives.