Baldwin City memory care home provides comfort for Alzheimer’s patients
The tall elderly man stepped across the living room late Friday morning in an east Baldwin City home with a light touch on his walker.
Before settling into a brown easy chair, he looked out to the backyard at water cascading down three foot of rocks to a fishpond below a mature maple tree.
“Isn’t it nice?” he asked. “When I first saw this place, I said I was going to retire here. They said that wasn’t possible, but I did.”
He now shares the home with three others, who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or some other cognitive impairment.
Scott Schultz who owns what is called a ComfortCare Home of Baldwin City with his wife, Linda, said the home was purchased, remodeled, staffed and managed as an alternative to larger skilled nursing facilities for those with cognitive impairments.
“Residents don’t have to be diagnosed with that, but that’s our specialty,” Scott said. “Alzheimer’s causes confusion and anxiety for residents. In large facilities with so much activity taking place and changes in staff, it can fuel that confusion. Here, with only six residents and no changeover in staff, they become very accustomed to their environment. Then, it becomes a much calmer and peaceful place to live.”
Facilities like that the Schultzes opened in Baldwin City with their emphasis on personal and specialized care and home-like environments, are a growing segment of the senior care market.
“The first one in the state was opened in Wichita in 1993,” he said. “There are 100 in Kansas now.”
Aiding that growth is ComfortCare Homes, which opened the first home in Wichita and now licenses others in Kansas and Nebraska, including the Baldwin City facility.
“Both of us had grandmothers who went through traditional skilled nursing home care,” Scott said. “Linda’s grandmother had Alzheimer’s. That motivated us to want something more for our community.”
Critical to the memory care concept is the right physical and social environment.
“The No. 1 requirement was the environment is calm and peaceful for the residents,” Scott said. “We wanted them to enjoy the backyard, so shade trees were a must. A one-story ranch-style home was also a must.
“It took over a year to find a place with those requirements.”
The home the couple bought is on a corner lot with one large maple in the front yard and another in the back. It also has the water features and garden that so appealed Friday to the elderly resident.
“We just knew it would be a very therapeutic home for our patients to spend time,” Linda said. “We knew it was the one.”
As they searched for the right home, the couple prepared themselves for their new venture. Scott and Linda completed training to become certified nurse aides, and Linda added the certification needed to dispense medicines. Both also earned certification to manage a skilled nursing facility, working in a larger skilled nursing home and a ComfortCare home in the Kansas City area. All the while, ComfortCare Homes provided support and coached the couple in policies and procedures.
During that time, Scott and Linda also searched for the right staff.
“It was very important that we find staff who lived locally, so we were neighbors taking care of neighbors,” Linda said. “We wanted to find people who have a love for this.”
The house was further modified to fit residents’ needs. Two bedrooms and a walk-in shower were added and an X-ray machine installed. A black metal fence with coded gateway was installed around the backyard so that residents could enjoy it without fear of them wandering away — a concern with individuals with dementia — and similar security systems installed on the home’s entrances.
Within that safe environment every effort is made to make the residents feel secure and at home, Scott and Linda said.
“It’s their house,” Scott said. “We consider ourselves guests in their house.”
So their day revolves around what they would like to do.
“What we say is a change in address doesn’t have to mean a change in lifestyle.”
The residents are not just passive occupants of the house but take an active part in day-to-day chores, Scott said. They help unload and put away groceries, fold laundry, assist in meal preparation and with gardening.
Dr. Dara Lowe of Baldwin Medical Clinic is the home’s physician. Residents receive in-house physical, occupational and speech therapy from Baldwin Therapy Services, chiropractic care from Rodrock Chiropractic and arrangements have been made for in-house podiatrist, hair stylist and dental hygienist services.
The combination of professional services and follow through at the home has allowed one resident to make the transition form using a wheelchair to walking with the aid of a walker, Linda said.
“Because we have such a low number of residents in our care, our caregivers are able to give literally hours a day to our resident,” she said. “We are able to follow through with that, even when therapists are not there, to get them strengthened and do the exercises that are recommended.”
Scott said he was pleased with how the home has been received. Residents are from Olathe, Ottawa and Baldwin City, but all have family in the community.
“It’s gone faster than I had assumed,” Scott said. “We were projecting four residents after a year. To have five after eight months is pretty delightful.”
“We’ll have five people living here at the end of the month. We have room for seven, but I don’t think it’s very likely we’ll ever accept a seventh resident. It would be very comfortable with six. We have one spot left to fill.”