Garden House help individuals, and their families, live (well) with memory loss

Deb Nessett cooks a meal with her father and Garden House resident, Bill Hornig, in the large kitchen provided for residents and their family to use any time. Contributed photo

Participation is paramount for the well-being of those struggling with memory loss. And that’s what the staff at the Garden House of St. Mary’s in Winsted is striving for.

“We want our staff to interact with residents more frequently and at a deeper level,” said Housing Manager Ashley Alberts. “We include residents in purposeful activities, such as vacuuming, folding laundry, cleaning off the table after meals, and helping to prepare meals by peeling vegetables of baking a dessert.”

Deb Nessett, whose father, Bill Hornig, resides at the Garden House, couldn’t agree more.

“My dad loves to help out by cleaning, setting the table, folding napkins and things like that,” Nessett said. “And he loves to help me cook. I try to visit every Sunday and cook breakfast there with my dad. We’ll make scrambled eggs and bacon or something like that together.”

Welcoming view of the front of Garden House. Contributed photo

The Garden House is nestled in a serene setting within the city limits. The 20-unit facility is actually two facilities in one building with mirrored images with separate entrances that come together with a huge kitchen area in the middle.

“We are able to have residents with a higher cognitive level in one house, and lower cognitive level in the other,” Alberts explained. “By being able to do this, we see less behavior issues and conflict among residents.”

But the facility can also become undivided and transformed into one large house, if needed, if families or residents want to interact more.

“We can open it up to make one large kitchen, or close it off for two separate kitchens that are exactly alike,” Alberts explained. “The families love that we allow them to come in any time and cook. They use it for celebrations, like birthdays or anniversaries, or a holiday meal.”

There is an identical dining area on each side of the kitchen area for the 10 residents on each side. But if a family wants to have a private meal with a family member that lives there, there is a separate dining room that they can use.

One of the two large family-style rooms at Garden House. Contributed photo

“We encourage families to be involved with their loved ones at the Garden House, whether it’s attending the family potlucks, joining us for an outing, or just coming in to visit,” said Alberts. “We also welcome families to come here and have meals or celebrate holidays with their loves one.”

Meals provided by the Garden House are home-cooked and well-balanced.

“Our meals are made mostly from scratch,” said Alberts. “Our meals are generation appropriate; they range from meat and potatoes to soup and a sandwich. We have a weekly menu, but for every meal there is an alternative upon residents’ request.”

“The Garden House has a warm and welcoming environment,” Alberts remarked. “We strive to make this feel like home, not only for our residents, but their families, too. I have been at the Garden House for six years, and I love coming to work. The warm and welcoming atmosphere makes me feel like I am home. With our small setting, I am able to get to know the residents and their families.”

Marvin Balgaard paints a bird house during activity time. Contributed photo

And that is one of the many reasons Jo Ellen Fasching feels comfortable having her stepfather, Marvin, as a resident there.

“It feels so much like home when you walk in the door,” said Fasching. “You can see that the residents enjoy it there. They interact and socialize with one another. They will all be together watching TV in the family room. They will even curl up on the couch and take a nap, just like at home. It’s really like independent living within a structured facility.”

Nessett checked several memory care facilities before deciding on a place for her father to live. But nothing she came across compared to the Garden House in Winsted.

Celina Polkoski (left) and Bonita Nieman (right) paint bird houses. Contributed photo

“I wish more people would check around,” she said. “They would find out that this is by far the best place. I didn’t see anything that’s even close to comparing to this place. If this place were in the Twin Cities, there would be a long waiting list.”

The Garden House is a modern structure built in 2011 with a myriad of amenities, private single or double occupancy suites with walk-in showers, a secure building with 24-hour staff awake availability, secure outdoor environment and a nurse on hand at the facility five days a week, and on call seven days a week.

Fasching has been the resident beautician at Garden House for the last five years.

“I come here once a week to cut hair so I know the place pretty well,” Fasching said. “When my sibling and I were looking for my ‘bonus father,’ I didn’t want to influence them so I had them look (at the Garden House) without me coming along. I wanted them to see and experience the things I liked about the place. I was so excited that they fell in love with the place, too.”

And Fasching saw one telltale sign that Marvin also liked the choice they made for him.

“He had a big smile on his face the day he came here,” she said. “And he still has a big smile on his face. He told us he really liked this place.”

Alberts feels that there are several areas of the Garden House that set it apart from other memory care facilities.

“With the fenced-in patio and gardens, residents are able to get outside without the worry about them wandering off,” she noted. “Our small setting is also important because residents have a better quality of life and we were able to get to know our residents and have more one-on-one time with them.

“We specialize in memory care, and our director of nursing is also a certified dementia practitioner, so the staff is well-trained on how to care for those with memory care needs.”

Garden House resident Marilyn Black pets a pony brought to the Garden House by Judy Berry as pet therapy for the residents to enjoy. Contributed photo

Another convenience is the location of the Garden House, which sits on the campus of St. Mary’s Care Center.

“If our residents need a short-term stay at the nursing home, or need more extensive care than we are able to provide, they can transfer there,” Alberts said.

The Garden House also provides respite care for those in need of short-term placement for their loved one.

“Residents have the option to use our on-site nurse practitioner, who comes out once a week, instead of families having to take residents to the clinic.”

Garden House also provides elective podiatry, vision, and audiology services to the residents. And labwork and x-rays can also be done at the facility to make it more convenient for the resident and their family members.

“(Families) really like the one-campus facility,” said Fasching. “It’s a lot less worry. If someone fell and broke a hip, they would only have to go next door to the Care Center to be cared for until they are able to go back to Garden House.”

And residents also can enjoy participating in various outings throughout the year.

“In the fall and winter, we go to the local apple orchard about once a month for lunch,” Alberts said. “We also carve and decorate pumpkins for Halloween, and the residents participate in a scarecrow contest. They also help with baking and decorating (holiday) cookies.”

In the warmer months, Garden House staffers encourage the residents to spend time in the patio area planting flowers and vegetables in the garden.

“We will take several drives just to get out and look at the scenery in the area,” said Alberts. “We also have pool parties. Residents enjoy dipping their feet in the wading pool and having cold lemonade. We also attend the local parade and the county fair. With St. Mary’s Care Center being on our campus, we can take our residents over there for church services, live entertainment and more.”

And all of this adds up to a family that is happy to have a loved one in the care of Garden House.

“The staff is wonderful there,” said Fasching. “We’re really happy with the place, and we’re glad Marvin is there.”

And as evidenced by his smile, so is Marvin.

For more information or to schedule a tour, contact Ashley Alberts at 320-485-2151 or by email at Ashley.Alberts@bhshealth.org. More is also available at www.gardenhousestmarys.org.