Helping seniors live at home, wherever their home might be
“In 1967, I sat on the floor of a nursing home in Kalona, Iowa,” said Tom Schuett. “I was five years old. There was a metal chair and an old man in a hospital bed. The bed was raised so the man could greet his guests. The room was not warm or inviting and it had an odor I tried to ignore.”
Tom was busy playing with his Tonka toys as his mom spoke with the old man.
“Women dressed in uniforms scurried about the hallways, whispering to each other,” he said. “A plate of food was brought in for the old man but he seemed to be pushing things around on the plate as opposed to actually eating anything. The old man seemed tired and he was difficult to understand.”
Years later, Tom realized that the old man they had visited that day was his greatgrandfather.
“My mother had brought me along so I could see him,” he said. “I do not remember saying more than hello, but I do remember never wanting to return to that place.
The memory of this visit, at least in part, let to the creation of CompassionCare in 2010.
“CompassionCare was a natural extension of our property management and development company, The Schuett Companies, Inc., started by my father in the 1970s,” said Schuett.
The Schuett Companies portfolio was predominantly seniors.
“As we thought about services in those buildings, there was a deep feeling that there was a better way to care for someone than what I had witnessed in the nursing home,” he said.
For Schuett, it started by trying to define the word, “home.”
“Is a home four walls?” he said. “Is it the people rather than the structure? Is home a feeling or a place? Is it a sense of comfort, security, belonging, acceptance and family? I quickly realized the definition of home is different for everyone, but within the varying definitions, there are consistent themes. A home should be a comfortable place. It should be an accepting place and a place where you feel secure.”
Schuett determined that a home has less to do with a structure and more of how it makes a person feel.
“An apartment is every bit a home for someone as a farmhouse is to someone else,” he said. “One of the most important attributes is that it should be a place where you and your family feel like you belong. I never felt like I belonged in that nursing home in 1967. Today I realize, neither did my great-grandfather.”
Schuett was quick to clarify that nursing homes are important, too.
“I want to make sure I’m clear. I have nothing against nursing homes, their owners or the staff that work at these facilities,” he said. “No matter how hard we try, there are certain people who, because of their circumstances, are best cared for in these facilities.”
But CompassionCare is something different.
“CompassionCare began with the belief that we could provide ‘compassion and care every day.’” he said. “In fact, that is our motto. We strive to make every resident feel at home. Whether a resident has lived with us for 20 years or 20 minutes, their apartment is their home, and we are guests when we are there. Since this is home, we want our residents to be able to live in their home as long as possible.”
To accomplish this, CompassionCare provides services to its residents as they need them.
“Housekeeping, laundry, medicine administration, transportation, shopping, and meal preparation are just some of the services we provide,” he said.
And visitors will always be welcome.
“Once a resident moves into our buildings they will never be asked to move to a smaller unit,” he said. “Unlike how I felt in 1967, we want the extended families of our residents to have a comfortable environment that is large enough to accommodate visitors and promote family gatherings.”
Residents are allowed to maintain their independence as long as possible, said Schuett.
“If a resident is able to prepare their own meal they should until they are not able,” he said. “Maintaining independence is a key factor as people age. The loss of independence can be discouraging and a factor that contributes to depression.”
With baby boomers continuing to retire, the housing shortage for seniors has been amplified, said Schuett.
“Our country is facing a huge housing shortage for seniors. Across the country there are many new developments under construction or already in operation to serve very wealthy seniors. Very few developers are addressing the need for affordable senior housing with services. In fact, as I travel the country and attend various developer conferences, I am often asked how and why we started CompassionCare. I find myself retelling the story from 1967 to nodding heads. I rarely meet someone who says ‘I want to spend my last days in a nursing home.’”
Allowing seniors to remain in their home longer is something that is very satisfying for Schuett and his team.
“There is a deep satisfaction in feeling that you have made a life better and more fulfilling,” he said “By creating an environment that affords our residents the opportunity to receive the services we provide and that allows them to remain as independent as possible in their home, CompassionCare makes a difference one life at a time. Our motto is our goal, “compassion and care every day.”