NEW ULM - If you haven't visited Oak Hills Living Center lately - and do so now - you would likely be as amazed as I am at how different - and much more inviting - the facility looks from even the recent past.
After two years of construction, the remodeling of Oak Hills Living Center into a state-of-the-art facility is complete.
The physical environment has undergone a dramatic change. The interior has been broken up into smaller, cozy "households," with a truer feel of home. The households - clusters of airy, stylishly decorated rooms - are pleasant and inviting. An appetizing smell of breakfast cooking - eggs frying - wafts from a household's kitchen - the aroma of home. Green plants thrive in a garden area under a skylight in one of the households, giving it its unique, individual feel. Sunlit porches offer cozy nooks to relax in...
Staff photos by Steve Muscatello
A living room in a household
A family room
A garden area
A sun room
A residential room
The five households at Oak Hills - aptly named Meadow View, Eagle's Point, Woodland Park, Whispering Pines and Deer Haven - have 16 to 22 residents each. Each household has its own dining room, kitchen area and living room. The large nurses' stations have been eliminated, and smaller, less obvious, stations have been created in each household area.
Numerous small but significant details contribute to the home-like atmosphere: open breakfast cooked to a resident's specifications, with more food choices; a larger number of private bedrooms...
Residential rooms have been remodeled, with new flooring, more electrical outlets, new window treatments; touches such as tilt mirrors, additional showers, and increased wheelchair accessibility have been added to bathrooms.
If you go:
What: Open house
Where: Oak Hills
When: 2:30 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 20.
Tours will be provided and refreshments will be served.
Locked medicine cabinets in each room eliminate the nurse's medication cart; and laundry is now done in each household eliminating confusion and loss - as well as an "institution-like" feel.
While it is the most visible aspect of the transformation, the change in the physical plant is just the overt manifestation of a much more comprehensive, five-year-long, process of "culture change."
The conscious effort - including, but not limited to the $6 million remodeling - represents a deep and significant transition from a "medical" to a "resident-directed" model of care - a much more personalized, and personal, model that reflects current industry trends and positions the facility to better meet the needs of the future.
The culture change includes a long list of changes in staffing, technology and service systems. With this model of care, the staff in each households is dedicated to the household, and is trained to empower the residents to make decisions as to how they want to live their lives. Caregivers have been cross-trained to meet residents' needs, according to the residents' personal schedules.
In a word, to quote Administrator Carli Lindemann, the households offer more "person-centered" care.
The model has been proven to improve satisfaction of residents, families and employees, and eliminates much of the stigma associated with moving to a long-term care facility, Oak Hills officials note.
In addition to the households project, Oak Hills opened the Oak Hills Living Center deli in the past year. It offers snacks and lunch, Monday through Friday, and has been a hit for staff and visitors.
The auxiliary gift shop is located in this area as well, offering cards, used books and other gift items.
On the technology end, an electronic medical record system, with voice activated features, has been introduced, easing staff's jobs.
No less importantly, Oak Hills has been certified by the government Medicare program as a home care agency, extending the continuum of care.
Lindemann, the Oak Hills administrator, points out that the comprehensive change in "how we do essentially everything" sets Oak Hills up for the future, creating a home that would benefit the community for years to come.
The transformation has been funded through a state borrowing program, with some extra help from community donations and bequests.
(Special thanks to Carli Lindemann, Administrator, and Kathy Backer, who helps Oak Hills with campaigns, for explaining the projects and guiding my tour of Oak Hills.)