Prairie River Home Care provides individualized care in home-like setting

Residents and staff pose for a photo while some do some gardening work in the garden box at the Birchwood House. Pictured are (L to R) Arlys, Caren, Betty, Chuck, Anna, Shannin and Sharon. Contributed photo

Ken and Judy Figge have been operating Prairie River Home Care since 1998. Since that time, the family-owned agency has expanded and is now operating in 60 of the 87 counties in Minnesota,

Prairie River Home Care owns and operates the Birchwood House, an assisted living facility in Hutchinson, that specializes in services for people afflicted with movement challenges, such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.

Between them, Ken and Judy have over 50 years of experience in home care. Their children, Austin Figge and Lori Seemann, are an integral part of this family-owned and operated agency.

When Judy’s father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and needed to leave his home in order to receive more assistance, the family found it increasingly difficult to find the proper facility for him.

This personal experience sparked the passion in Ken and Judy and their family to open a facility of their own, acquiring a modern and spacious building on the west edge of Hutchinson in 2012 that formerly housed a hospice care facility. That is now known as Birchwood House, which is an affiliate of Prairie River Home Care.

Birchwood staffers Dallia Suhr, Cara Daak, Tiffany Cox, April Brady, Jacey Hargrave, Angie Robertson, Deanna Daffner, Ken Schaufler, and Shannin Rawlins form a caring cicle. Contributed photo

Birchwood Houses isn’t your typical assisted living facility. It’s a residential, individualized care and support home with specialized services for people afflicted with Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis (MS), alateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), and other movement and neurological challenges. Staff members there are specially trained to work with these types of challenges.

Birchwood has also partnered with the MS and Parkinson’s foundations.

“This allows us to provide care that is tailored to meet the needs of residents with these progressive disorders and keeps us current with new ideas and techniques, said Prairie River Home Care Director of Operations Ashley Maiers.

Birchwood prides itself on its true home-like setting with a huge main common area in the front entrance, which includes a large gas fireplace, industrial flooring and comfortable seating.

“Our focus is on individualized care and support,” said Maiers. “We get to know our clients and accommodate their favorite meals, snacks, activities and even decorating styles. We want this to feel like home for them, because it is.”

And the residents really enjoy their stay at Birchwood because it’s a safe and comfortable setting, and they are well taken care of. And staff members treat residents like a family member.

“Someone is here around the clock, and the nurse on call is available 24 hours a day,” said one resident who has been at Birchwood since August 2014. “(The staff) sincerely cares about people. They will do anything they can to make the residents comfortable.”

Birchwood is supervised by a registered nurse who is on call at all times. The nurse carefully monitors and assesses residents for any change in a health condition, in addition to managing medical regimens. Each care plan is personalized and carefully monitored.

“We have one caregiver to no more than four residents,” said Maiers. “This allows us to provide the care our staff wants to provide and the residents deserve to receive.”

Currently, Birchwood employs two RNs on staff who provide on site care, as well as after hours on-call nursing needs. There are also 14 direct care staff members who provide personal care, medication assistance, meals, cleaning, socialization and more.

And if a resident requires a home-care service, such as physical, occupational or speech therapy, Birchwood partners to provide it so the residents don’t have to leave the building.

There is also a salon area for any grooming needs a resident might have, on site computer room, library, exercise room and more.

Anna B. holds one of the dogs used for pet therapy. Contributed photo

Birchwood also is designed to accommodate all levels of care.

“I’ve had so many good experiences that I couldn’t tell them all,” said a resident since July 2015. The staff is great; you can’t beat them.  I’ve been spoiled from day one when they served me breakfast in bed.  I’m not a morning person so this works out well for me. They always make my bed and keep my room and bathroom spotless. My family is very happy that I have the best of care.”

Birchwood hosts a Parkinson’s Disease support group that meets on the last Wednesday of each month in which the general public is welcome to attend. And Birchwood also hosts an annual Parkinson’s disease update presented by Rose Wichmann of the Struthers Parkinson’s Center.

If a resident wants to have a family member visit, Birchwood has accommodations for family members who might want to stay overnight, or a large family room downstairs is available for family-type gatherings or social events.

Residents also have the chance to join in with others for activities if they choose.

“Staff members will bring their children in to visit when they aren’t working,” said Maiers. “We have pet therapy, people playing the piano, conversations in the main room, gardening in the front, or just sitting on the front porch. People are living life here, just like they would at home.”

Residents are served three nutritious meals a day, plus snacks; all prepared in the kitchen at Birchwood and planned by a certified dietician.

“Meal time is social time, and let’s face it, we all love to eat,” said Maiers. “Eating around an actual dining room table with everyone in the house brings life to meal times.”

Residents can also suggest a certain food item that might be a personal favorite, and Birchwood will attempt to accommodate their request.

“I can’t say enough about meal time. Food is number one,” said a resident since July 2015. “I really mean that. They always make something different. Whatever you choose, they will make for you.”

Rooms are large and spacious and fully furnished, although residents may wish to bring in their own favorite chair, mini fridge or dresser, for example. Each private room includes a large handicapped-accessible bathroom.

“They can decorate their own rooms with any personal belongings they might have,” said Roxanne Landers, RN Housing and Clinical Services Manager of Birchwood. “A lot of the artwork and photos we have hanging in our place were made by residents or donated to us by residents or former residents.”

Birchwood resident Chuck S. admired a robin’s nest that was found in a hanging basket outside the house. Contributed photo

Even though the building is no longer a hospice house, Birchwood has partnered with Hutchinson Health to assist people for short-term placement based on availability, whether it’s for hospice or respite needs for a family.

Prairie River Home Care evolved from Prairie River Inc., a company started in 1989 which provided personal care attendant services to disabled individuals. In 1996, Prairie River Home Care became a Medicare-certified home care agency offering a broad range of services to individuals of all ages.

The corporate office of Prairie River Home Care is located in Buffalo, Minn. Direct client care and services are provided through a network of eight offices located in Buffalo, Hutchinson, Fairmont, Blaine, Mankato, Marshall, Rochester and St. Cloud.

There will be an open house at Birchwood from 4-6 p.m. on Aug. 9; a Parkinson’s disease education event and a to-go dinner with each RSVP, as well as continuing education for health care professionals. They will also be offering tours and have a Q&A  regarding Birchwood.

For more information about the Birchwood House, to schedule a tour, or to join the Parkinson’s support group, call 320-587-7737.